Collage Extraordinaire

Would you believe me if I tell you my life is about glue?

I like to take things apart and put the pieces back together. I love paper. I want the pieces to stick.

I make collage.

I like to juxtapose elements, mix and match media, and embellish with layers of paper, paint and ink.

My thinking process is also like collage.

I like to play with ideas and explore theme and variation and I like multiple choices.

I teach collage workshops and classes (collage is so contemporary and so user friendly).

I plan a theme for each workshop to jump-start the process.

Surprise! In many cases, people arrive with their own plan of what they are going to do (or not do).

It’s important to me that each person feels they do it their way. I never want to control input or outcome. I won’t touch their work with my own hand. We do dialog. I show images in the books I bring along to augment their ideas.

I typically do not know in advance who is registered for a workshop. I have to find out who they are when they arrive – so I ask people to tell me about themselves, if they’ve worked with collage or another media, what they like, and what they want to learn.

I want to share an interesting story.

Last summer I led a 6-hour workshop at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ) titled Narrative Collage attended by adults, including identical twin sisters about age 50.

It was almost a disaster. One twin was keenly interested in the workshop and the theme narrative collage. One twin was keenly disinterested and verbally antagonistic to her twin about being there.  It was bizarre.

It was hard to persuade the resisting twin to participate.

But I am persistent and have my ways.

I showed her a book highlighting the life and work of the artist Ray Johnson (American 1927-1995). I had a hunch she would like to know about his work.

I am a great fan of Johnson’s work.


Johnson is known as a collage artist extraordinaire and has been called New York’s most famous unknown artist.

Ray Johnson was the original “bridge” between so many of the people and sensibilities of the international art scene and its fringes.  He was heralded as an innovator by the heroes-to-be of Pop and Fluxus (Mark Bloch (© 1995). Read MORE

Black Mountain College Dossiers #4 (Ray Johnson) is the title of the book I brought to the Newark Museum workshop. It includes collage images and an essay “With Ray: The Art of Friendship” by William S. Wilson (It’s an old book, and for some reason it’s very expensive online).

From 1946-48 Ray Johnson studied alongside Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Faculty members included Joseph Albers, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Willem and Elaine DeKooning, and others.


After Black Mountain, Johnson moved to Manhattan (NY) and showed annually with the American Abstract Artists. He is connected to the history of Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and early Pop Art.

In his own way, he invented performance art and Happenings (he called them “nothings.”) He is credited with founding the MAIL ART movement – he called it the New York Correspondence School, and it still exists today.

Johnson’s mail art directed people to “send to” or “add to and return” or “do not send to.”

Ray Johnson

The above image is titled Four Eyed Bunny Postcard – November 26, 1977. See more images of MAIL ART sent from Ray Johnson to Mick Boyle.

The New York Correspondence School participants circulated and re-circulated lists, group portraits, reports, announcements, insider commentary and snippets of media that was an open-ended collage of gossip about members and the NY Art World.

Johnson said: I had this stockpile of materials, so I put them into envelopes and mailed them off to everybody everywhere. I’m very fond of the idea of the message in the bottle…and the chance of it being found or never being…That’s pure romance.

(quoted in Black Mountain College Dossiers)


Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson would take a word that turned up in conversation and reverse it to see if it yielded another word…

When he made an error in typing, he often took off from the error, not from the word he had intended to type.

The collage seen above is titled Taoist/Toast! (1957) 5×4 inches, is in the collection of William S. Wilson (reproduced in Black Mountain College Dossiers #4).

Johnson made an anagram from the word “Taoist,” turned it into the word “toast,” and with the letter “i” left over, turned the “I” upside down as an exclamation mark and wrote “Toast!”


Chapter VIII in the Black Mountain Collage Dossiers book is titled “Twins.”

William S. Wilson wrote: The meaning…of Ray’s images often is complemented by…a twoness, a doubling, as in mirroring, tracing, carbon copies, repeating or other duplication…

It’s possible the twin found this chapter in the book. It brought her back into the group. I think – maybe – she is now a great fan of Ray Johnson’s work.

She began to work in earnest and made a collage inspired by one of the images in the book.

In research on Ray Johnson, I learned about a documentary video about his life titled HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY (2002) directed by John W. Walter.

Johnson loved to recycle old works into multi-layered new works. He loved collaboration. His MAIL art included bunny head portraits, puns and rhymes.

The image above is a portrait of Ray Johnson, his logo bunny and the title of the documentary How To Draw A Bunny (image: the Internet).

You may know Ray Johnson committed suicide in 1995. He jumped off a bridge, paddled backstroke and disappeared in the waters near his home in Long Island, NY.

The documentary HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY includes interviews with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Judith Malina, James Rosenquist and others.  Read MORE

Thank you for visiting…let me know if you’ve seen the documentary HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY.

PS:  Please add your comments on the art of Ray Johnson and the NY Correspondence School…and I hope you’ll join me on Facebook and LinkedIn


3 thoughts on “Collage Extraordinaire

  1. I love his work and the documentary, How to Draw a Bunny is so interesting that I tell everyone to see it….he is also known as the “father of mail art.”

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