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 Johnson. 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.
In September, 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.

Years later, I tried to recover the Hitchhiker from the Richard Feigan Art Gallery and was told it was in a warehuse with the rest of Rays legacy.  Much later, I called to make arrangements, they called back to tell me they couldn't find it.  Browsing the internet, I came across an image of the cut-off upper half of it attached to a post.
In 2002, John Waters created a 90 minute award winning film about Ray, "How to Draw a Bunny."  A couple of stills of the image (right) of Ray picking the HitchHiker from the Stone Gallery are in the film.

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