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The King of Correspondence Art

I was rummaging through old files prior to donating them to the School of Visual Arts’ The Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, when I stumbled upon a folder called “eccentrics.” The sole contents was a sheath of correspondence to me from Ray Johnson (1927–1995). He was a collagist and leading correspondence artist involved in Neo-Dada and early Pop art. As “New York’s most famous unknown artist” he was associated with the Fluxus movement and in the 1960s founded the New York Correspondence School.

One day out of the blue, he started sending me his art. At first, I didn’t know what he wanted me to do with the Xeroxed scraps and pieces. Did he want to make art for the Times? Did he want me to commission him to do illustrations? In time I realized it was just a gift. As if he picked me at random from the telephone book, he began showering me with correspondence (and the occasional phone call) with no other purpose than to be a recipient of his art. When I uncovered the “eccentrics” file, I thought maybe it was all a grand plan. Just perhaps, on the chance I wouldn’t throw the stuff out, he wanted me, or anyone else, to share his work with others. Little did he know the Internet would be such an apt tool for this purpose. Little did I know I would find the work years later and be able, through this forum, to share with others.

Johnson  lived in New York City from 1949 to 1968, when he moved to Locust Valley, Long Island, where he resided until his suicide. On January 13, 1995, Johnson was seen diving off a bridge in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and backstroking out to sea. His body washed up on the beach the following day.

A film “How to Draw a Bunny,” documenting Johnson’s life, directed by John W. Walter, was released in 2002. Here are some of seemingly random pages he sent to me – and an excerpt from one of his to-do lists (below bottom).

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