Hitchiker of Ray Johnson
Hitchiker of Ray
Johnson (mail artist)
on the expressway out of Detroit.
When I started doing mail art, Roy Castleberry, bead magnate and closet
artist, put me in touch with New York Corespondance School founder, Ray
is from Detroit. His parents were still here when I met him, and when
he came to visit them, sometimes he'd call me and we'd talk or he would
visit me in Grosse Pointe. So when he showed up in 1980 in the midst of
this cutting and painting of plywood, I explained the deal about the note
and abandonment. He agreed, so I stood him in front of a piece of plywood,
sent my son across the street with a big piece of mirror to follow my hand
with a reflection from the sun. I traced Ray's silouhette onto the wood.
I took a couple of polaroids, including a close-up of Ray's profile. I
contacted Ray in Locust Valley, NY. when the Hitchiker was done.
Since I planned a trip to the Allan Stone Gallery in Manhattan, Ray
agreed to pick it up from there.
1981, Ray called and asked me my favorite word. I told him "radar" because
its spells both ways, just like how it works. In November he sent me a
xerox of an image incorporating the word and a note saying he hoped that
I made a lot of photo-documention of the Hitchiker project and asking "What
do you do with your old "cut-out" shapes (the background shape)?".
I called him a year later to find out for the record what he wrote on
the back of his Hitchiker and where he abandoned it. He told me he still
had it. He said he was having trouble letting go of it. I told him abandonment
was his part of the deal and that he agreed to it and had to do it. He
called me back a few weeks later and told me he had exhibited it somewhere
in Long Island. He told me he couldn't let
it go, that he had added a necklace and had grown too attached to
it. Using a label John H. Neff had put on him, I said "Ray, you're the
Master of the Throw-away Gesture. Give it up. It's only an image."
I never heard from Ray again.
On January 13, 1995, Ray Johnson stunned his friends and the art world
by going off a bridge into the glassy waters of Sag Harbor, Long Island.
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