The excellent 2002 documentary “How To Draw A Bunny” is about the life and art of Ray Johnson. I was touched that the man who has been called “the most famous artist you’ve never heard of” had ended his life as a suicide. Every major museum that collects ‘pop” art has a piece of his as a part of their permanent collection. So many of Johnson’s New York friends were quite famous: Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage…the list goes on and on.
He was also one of the founders of “mail art.” Postcard pieces were sent out to friends upon which Ray wrote, “please add to and return.”
The 1960’s were famous for performance art pieces referred to as “happenings” ; Ray held “nothings” to which many attended only to find that indeed “nothing” happened.
When I started writing the lyrics to the song I wrongly assumed that Johnson killed himself due to lack of recognition and more importantly lack of funds. A google search: “Ray Johnson money” somehow lead to performance artist Marina Abramovic. Her problem; how does one monetize performance art…?
When Ray Johnson dropped off the side of a small bridge in Sag Harbor, Long Island in January of 1995, he was observed calmly backstroking out to sea. The two teenage girls who witnessed this tried to report it, but in as when they told adults that the swimmer did not seem in any distress – they were ignored. The artist’s body washed up the next day.
At the time of his death Ray Johnson had about six hundred thousand dollars in the bank – so it wasn’t money that lead to his decision.
We will never know…quite haunting.
You can download the song “How To Draw Ray Johnson at https://soundcloud.com/darkjet/how-to-draw-ray-johnson