Essay by Brad Gooch
Ray Johnson (1929-1995) studied painting at the legendary Black Mountain College, where he met and befriended many of the leading avant-garde figures of the day. He moved to New York in 1949, and within a few years he had rejected painting in favor of collage. That medium’s combinatory principles became central to his art, which grew to encompass performance, conceptual art, and sculpture.
Considered among the earliest examples of Pop art, Johnson's collages are built up in layers of magazine clippings, found photographs, and handmade marks. He worked in a nonlinear way, often setting aside a collage for years before picking it up, adding to it, and setting it aside again. As he grew increasingly isolated during the last two decades of his life, he seemed to build a world within his work, filling it with a peculiar mix of celebrities, writers, and members of the New York art world. “Like jokes sublimely told by a tortured stand-up comedian, or songs belted out by a diva on painkillers," Brad Gooch writes in the essay, "the invariable takeaways from Johnson’s painstakingly executed works remain surprise and joy, excitement and entertainment."
Gooch, Brad, et al. Ray Johnson. New York, NY: Matthew Marks Gallery, 2017.