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Ray Johnson

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Ray Johnson

American, (1927–1995)
Black Mountain College

Ray Johnson was an extremely innovative and prolific artist who worked across a range of media. His mode of expression does not fit neatly in the confines of any one stylistic category, though certainly shows the influence of pop art and abstraction. Born in Detroit, Johnson attended Cass Technical High School and the Detroit Art Institute before he set off to study art at Black Mountain College in 1945. Johnson studied closely with Josef Albers and preferred his disciplined approach to teaching. His worked primarily on geometric paintings during this period. The symbols and grids contained in these paintings have been interpreted by curator Ruth Erickson as precursors to his later and better-known work in collage and print media that developed when he moved to New York after BMC.1 Much of Johnson’s work involved movement or distribution of print materials through performance measures or the subnetworks of the United States Postal Service. His approach to collage and his distinctly personal stylistic interventions are summed up by his close friend Bill Wilson, “Ray was not determined or governed by the determining tone of a person, a book, a film or a painting: he took a piece from the whole and showed that something else existed in that piece beside what had been obvious when it was part of the whole.” Johnson was known to chop up images and words and arrange them on flat surfaces to produce new associations or meaning. Ray Johnson committed suicide in 1995.

[source: Corey Loftus, fall 2021 curatorial fellow]

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