Parts & Labor Beacon is pleased to present Mark Gonzales and Ray Johnson, an exhibition featuring recent paintings and works on paper by Mark Gonzales, alongside key collage works by Ray Johnson, as well as copies of one hundred of Johnson’s mail art works and his original mailbox.
The art of Ray Johnson traverses a wide range of mass and information-based media including mail art (which he essentially invented as both a medium and a movement), graphic design, film, artist books, performance, and most concertedly, collage (a medium to which he also introduced significant stylistic and technical innovation). Johnson's initiation of mail correspondence as an art form began in the late 1940s, and became a significant focus of his practice in the 1950s soon after he moved to New York, following his studies at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Throughout the 1950s, Johnson created and developed an expansive network of participants to disseminate and distribute small works of art through the postal service, which eventually became known as the New York Correspondence School, both as a sardonic response to the New York School of Abstraction and as a disruption to the commercial art market system as a whole. The democracy of Johnson's mail art system set into motion an active conversant community, resulting in a subculture of collaborators, followers, and supporters whose contributions played an integral role in the resolution of the artist’s mail art process. Johnson was specific and intentional regarding the required perpetual circulation of this work; he instructed recipients to add their own visual updates or commentary, and forward work on to another addressee, or to return to the sender.
In the mid 1950s, before the term Pop Art was coined, Johnson was a forerunner in the visual art conversation that would mine the language of commercial design. He incorporated cut, shaped, and layered collage in works he called “moticos,” which integrated the associative and poetic potential of overlaid images, semiotics, and wordplay. Having developed a close relationship with Andy Warhol, Johnson was an instrumental and influential voice in the Pop Art icon’s engagement with commercial design media. But never one to settle within a genre, Johnson was also an early and leading Conceptual art practitioner involving, in a Duchampian manner, chance-derived elements in his mail art, his collage, and in his random arrangements of performance-based events he called “Nothings” (in direct contraposition to “Happenings”). Johnson worked tirelessly throughout his life and career in all of these and other media, continually developing and expanding a highly influential and uniquely revolutionary voice in contemporary art. In January 1995, Johnson’s suicide drowning, diving into the frigid bay in Sag Harbor, NY and backstroking out to the ocean, was considered his final and most episodic art performance, bringing to a tragic end a beguiling and mysterious voice of post war art and aesthetic observation.
Mark Gonzales' skating career and his emergence as a transformative innovator in skate culture, as well as his engagement with subcultural movements, came about just a few years after the height of mail art activity in the early 1980s when color Xerox became a readily available medium.
In the manner of Philippe Petit or Rémy Julienne, Gonzales pushes the boundaries of physical motion to the realm of intrinsic formal beauty and poetic resolution. As a teenager in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Gonzales (also known as Gonz) became known for his skateboarding, and he incorporated elements of the urban environment in unprecedented ways while inventing and executing tricks in locations that are so core to the sport they continue to bear his name. Gonzales’ approach to skating is inextricably tied to his practice as a painter, illustrator, filmmaker, actor, poet, and designer, all of which define his role as a cultural icon.
In his “Poem Paintings,” Gonzales revisits the episodic exploration of various themes using “automatic spelling,” and often invented syntax as seen in his countless self-published zines, suggesting a reclamation of the raw graffiti-style text that is associated with skateboarding. Gonzales’ dynamically executed verse elicits the corporeal qualities that connect the poem works directly with the ethos of his cartoon-like figures of hidden identities included in this exhibition.
The works of Mark Gonzales and Ray Johnson track a reformation of American ethos, reflecting their respective transformative political backdrops. At their core, Gonzales and Johnson are two of the most democratic, and demonstrably engaging American artists of their times, each engaging a subculture of their own devices.
Ray Johnson (b. October 16, 1927, Detroit, MI; d. January 13, 1995, Sag Harbor, New York) attended Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948, where he studied under influential artists Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, and Robert Motherwell. In 1949, Johnson moved to New York City, where he became a notable figure of the downtown art scene. He is recognized as a formative Pop artist, who preceded Warhol, for his early use of pop culture images. Johnson’s work has been exhibited in numerous museum and gallery shows worldwide, including: Ray Johnson - Please Add to & Return, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Barcelona, ES, 2009-2010), Ray Johnson: Correspondences, the Whitney Museum of American Art (1999; traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University (Columbus OH, 2000); the Marian Willard Gallery (New York); the Richard Feigen Gallery (New York, Chicago); Matthew Marks Gallery (New York); and Adler Beatty (New York). His works are currently housed in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); the Museum of Modern Art (New York); the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis). The Ray Johnson Estate is represented by Adler Beatty (New York). Parts & Labor Beacon wishes to thank Adler Beatty for its generous cooperation in the organization of this exhibition.
Mark Gonzales (b.1968, Los Angeles, CA) started skating at the age of 13, and became recognized for his contributions to street skating – an innovative style that utilizes the urban environment for tricks. Gonzales’ artwork progressed in tandem with his skateboarding career, as he created work that combined skating with contemporary art through zines, skateboard deck art, and performance art on skateboards. In the 1990s, Gonzales toured the United States and Europe for five years as part of the exhibition Beautiful Losers, conceived and curated by Aaron Rose and Christian Strike. His work was also featured in Beyond the Streets New York, a graffiti and street art exhibition in Brooklyn, in June 2019. He is currently a New York-based artist whose work has been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally including Franklin Parrasch Gallery (New York); Half Gallery, (New York); Museum Het Domein (Netherlands); Stadtisches Museum (Abteiberg, Germany), and the Carnegie Center for Art and History (New Albany, IN). In 2011, Gonzales was named by Transworld Skateboarding magazine as the “Most Influential Skateboarder of All Time.”
Mark Gonzales and Ray Johnson opens on Saturday November 9, 2019 and will remain on view through Sunday January 26, 2020. An opening reception will take place on Saturday November 9 from 5-7 pm. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 12-6 pm and by appointment. Parts & Labor Beacon will be open by appointment only from December 21 to January 12.
For images, biographies, and further information, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.