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ISSM : TAM960152


tam honors Ray Johnson on the Internet


Well, That isn't something that is easy to answer. They already call him 'the father of mail art' because he started the New York Correspondence School (or Correspondance School as it was changed on some occasions).

To get an idea of who Ray really was one has to search hard since only little has been written about him. But once one has started the results are good. In the books on POP ART I have in my collection there is always a short biography about Ray Johnson, and mostly they also include some illustrations of his collages. The NYCS and his mail art work aren't in these books mostly since the 'official artworld' doesn't pay attention to this mail art since it can't be bought or sold easily.

My search for 'who is Ray Johnson' started when I got this first piece of mail from him in September 1994. I had written to Ray a few times before (years ago) but, as it seemed he didn't want to react to those mailings. I send him letters with questions and tried to invite him to some of my projects. Funny enough, after meeting one of his correspondents in Hagen Germany he suddenly answered one of my letters with the sending of some xeroxes. Nothing personal, but I then already noticed that the xeroxes Ray sent were always on very special paper, and that he used a special toner in the xerox-machine to get nice blue and grey-colors.

In October I started with my mail-interview project in which I invite mail artists to answer my questions. Not in the form of a questionaire, but more like a real interview where the mail artists can eract in any communication-form he likes to the question, and that answer will determihn my next question. I only found in natural to try to get Ray Johnson involved in this project as well, but I thought he would not answer at all. To my surprise he answered very quick, within a week. Typical Ray (as I know now) that he didn't tell about when he started his NYCS, but he just reacted to the invitation. I asked "answer in any lenght you choose", and Ray choose a specific length, which he indicated on the paper of the invitation. Also he indicated: "send the se cond question". Well, this second question was also answered, but the third question was followed by a silence. As I know now, he was probably busy with his suicide, and in end January 1995 I first heard about that.

The text of the answers I reprinted and sent already into the network. If someone is interested in that, well, I will attach them to this text as well (see end of page).

This interview started my research of what Ray Johnson was doing, and the first phase is collecting the informations that are available. The sources are not that difficult to find. There are the catalogs of his exhibitions (e.g. at the Feigen Gallery), and also some of his friends are most helpful and give me copies of materials they have.

Because of the many things I am working on at the same time I have allowed me all the time I need to process that information. I am planning to make a larger portfolio out of it and that will form the basis material for the next phase. What that will be, well you will find out if I have the energy for that. The material I get in now is already a large pile, and to process it I probably will need some more time as well.

A lot of people are also collecting information on the works and life of Ray Johnson. I am most willing to share my information with others. I am not a collector of Ray Johnson materials, so I am not interested in having originals of his works (unless you want to get rid of them that is). I am merely looking for the answer to my questi on. Who was Ray Johnson, and what has he done?

In the mail-interviews I am doing I mostly ask also a question about Ray to the people who knew him well. It will give a time-frame of how Ray was corresponding with his friends (NYCS-members and the network that evolved from that)



This is the TEXT-VERSION of the two answers Ray give as part of my interview- project. I am still collecting all kind of information about Ray Johnson (before and/or after his suicide on 13-1-1995). In the furure I hope to publish a booklet about this research)

Started on: 4-11-1994

RUUD : Welcome to this mail-interview. A lot of mail-artists have stopped with sending out their mail into the network, but you seem to keep it up even till today. Is it true that mail-art is more then art, that it is a way of living your life?

(please put your answer on paper any length you choose....)

Reply on: 11-11-1994

(Ray's answer was written on the original invitation to the project. He reacted to one specific word on the invitation, the word 'LENGTH', and he decided which length the answer would be...)

RAY : O.K. I choose 14 Inch length. Another answer - Dear Lamonte Young, Happy death day. Please send second question.

(The next question was in the length Ray wanted, and to make it more difficult for him, I typed the next question on dark-red paper on which I indicated the length he choose with a golden pen. Ray wrote again his answer on this paper and returned it to me.)

RUUD : With this length of 14 Inch the depth of my questions will change (for better or worse, I don't know....) What kind of color would you like my questions to be? Not to dark a color for this second question I hope.

Reply on : 21-11-1994

RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star? She got pinched in the astor bar.

RUUD : Was it a mistake that she got pinched. Was she supposed to be punched. Does she like PUNCH at all?

(Because of the long silence I wondered if the third question arrived, and I sent the following letter to Ray to ask him what was happened. As I found out a few days later, he had committed suicide).

Letter on : 21-01-1995 (I hadn't heard of his suicide on this date yet!)

Dear Ray Johnson,

After my third question for the MAIL-INTERVIEW in November last year no reaction from you. So either you are busy or you have no time for the interview or you don't like the idea. My attempt was to get some real views about MAIL-ART from you. If it is in 'WORDS' or in the form of 'COLLAGE', I don't mind, but the idea will be that of every interview I start one booklet will be made. Some others who I am interviewing too by mail already expressed their interest in what you would say, and I must admit I still am curious about who you are and what is behind the messages that you send out. But then again, it is healthy to be curious. You will decide how the mail-interview goes, and I will document in this case too. Take care R.J.

Best wishes from another R.J.,

* On January 24th 1995 I received two mail-art pieces from the USA in which I read that Ray Johnson has died. Tim Mancusi wrote on his envelope: "Ray Johnson jumped off a bridge last friday the 13th & killed himself. He was 67, what a sha me". Michael B. Corbett (Tensetendoned) wrote: "I regret to inform you of the tragic drowning death of Ray Johnson on Jan. 13th 1995".

* On January 24th 1995 I wrote my last letter to Ray, informing him that he will live forever, and I asked him about his new address, how high it ever might be.....

* On January 24th 1995 I received through INTERNET the E-mail magazine from Guy Bleus where it was confirmed too that Ray Johnson died.

date of printing : December 22, 1996

there are also secret thoughts published on this site.......


Ruud Janssen - TAM
P.O.Box 10388
5000 JJ Tilburg

Reproduction of this text is allowed provided that the text isn't changed, source is mentioned, and a copy of the magazine where the text is included in, is sent to TAM / P.O.Box 10388 / 5000 JJ Tilburg / NETHERLANDS.

updated version: 24-6-1997


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