Ray Johnson, collagist extraordinaire and founder of the New York Correspondance School is often referred to as the most famous unknown artist in the art world. He arrived in New York City in 1948 after having spent three years studying with Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Lionel Feininger at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He soon became acquainted with Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Willem de Kooning.
Johnson’s earliest works were intricately painted boards which reflected the influence of Albers’ color theories. He then began creating elaborate collages using images from popular culture, thus establishing himself as one of the earliest Pop artists. By the mid-1950s, without the aid of computers, scanners or Photoshop, Johnson was slicing and dicing images of Shirley Temple, James Dean and the like, mixing them with text in a manner that would foreshadow Andy Warhol’s investigations of celebrity. Johnson liked to say that he didn’t make Pop art, he made “Chop Art.” His “Chop Pop” was very painterly – the elaborately textured surfaces speak of Johnson’s awareness of the lessons of the Abstract Expressionists. In the 1960s, Johnson began to write poetic texts and letters which integrated language and a unique system of signs into this work. These obsessive but extremely artful mixtures of images and texts were his hallmark.
Excerpted from exhibition pamphlet.Download PDF (9.6 MB)