FROM KOLAJ 30
Joan Harrison Reflects on Her Friendship with Ray Johnson
Ray Johnson was a seminal figure in the early Pop art movement, a brilliantly original collagist and the de facto “father” of mail art with his “New York Correspondence School”. A refugee from Manhattan, after his friend Andy Warhol was shot and he was mugged in the street, Ray settled into the suburban art scene on the North Shore of Long Island. The art world thought he had gone underground. It was during this time that Johnson met fellow collage artist Joan Harrison. The two struck up a friendship that lasted until his death in 1995. Harrison reflects on her time knowing Johnson in Kolaj #30.
I met Ray on Bayville Beach in the fall of 1982. He mistook me for Janice Parente, a curator at the Nassau County Museum of Art, where I was scheduled to have my first photographic exhibition and he was scheduled to have a retrospective. He loved the synchronicity of the fact that I was not only who he thought I was, but was well acquainted with her. Soon after a letter marked “Bayville Valentine” came in the mail. It contained the wing of a bird. I was drawn in as a correspondent and soon we were regularly exchanging clippings, beach finds and tangential allusions. The start of a correspondence with Ray was like a courtship with all the attendant flattery and nuance. It was creative play and great fun.
Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a seminal mail artist in the 20th century. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, he moved to New York City in 1949 after a stint at Black Mountain College. There, here became “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” In 1968, he left the city for Long Island’s North Shore where he led an increasingly reclusive life until he died in 1995. For more information, visit the Ray Johnson Estate website at www.rayjohnsonestate.com.
Joan Harrison is a Professor Emerita of Long Island University. Her work has been shown and published internationally and she has had residencies at the Polaroid 20×24 Studio, Visual Studies Workshop and the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice. John and Joan Digby included her work in the seminal reference volume, The Collage Handbook, published by Thames and Hudson in 1985. Her article on the Digbys and their imprint, New Feral Press, was published in Kolaj 28. The artist lives and has her studio in Glen Cove, New York. Learn more in the Kolaj Magazine Artist Directory and at www.joanharrison.com.