Ray Johnson: The Early Years

June 2007

Moticos Panel with Harlo, circa 1956-58. Collage on cardboard panel, 11 x 7-1/2. Richard L. Feigen.
Red Babar, 1958-91-92. Collage on illustration board, 15 x 15. Richard L. Feigen.
Moticos Panel with Pink Shapes, circa 1956-58. Collage on cardboard panel, 11 x 7-1/2. Richard L. Feigen.

At Black Mountatin College, Ray Johnson’s exercises with Josef Albers were rectangular, if only because of rectangular paper. Ray’s art immediately after B.M.C. is so far unknown, with several years unaccounted for. He may have returned to B.M.C. for a visit, the year Ben Shahn visited and drew a picture for Charles Olson, “Glyph for Charles.” One of the images in Shahn’s drawing was a house as an image of the mind, where the house has a dark interior the way a head has a dark interior mind. Wherever Ray first saw the image, perhaps in a common source known to Shahn or to Charles Olson, the image was drawn by Ray until the early 1990s. He drew glyph-like figures throughout his art, throughout his life. Some early drawings survive on paper, some in photographs from 1953, when he is usually drawing and painting rectangles. But by 1953 his rectangles are set in motion by becoming vertical diamonds, that is, rectangles are seen on their sides, seen from an adjusted angle. By 1955, his rectangles are home-made and hand-drawn, so that the Euclidian-platonic idealist rectangle is no longer a threat to spontaneous construction.

Excerpt by William S. Wilson as published in the exhibition catalogue.

Location

Richard L. Feigen & Co. at Art Basel
Basel, Switzerland