Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Marie T. Stilkind, in an email:
I met Ray Johnson through a series of events.
I had to move from my apartment within 10 days (the woman who had the lease decided that she didn't want my friend Achla Chib who was coming from the UK to move in as she realized she might be dark skinned ... Achla was from New Delhi and a Hindu Indian). I went to a party that evening with Norman Solomon and told him all my woes and what was I going to do. He said his friend Phil Glass (who later became Philip Glass, the minimalist composer) was moving from his uptown apartment to a new big loft downtown.
I met Phil the next day and we arranged the move. At Phil's apartment at 69 W. 96th St., Albert M. Fine (later a Fluxus artist and composer) was sitting on the floor. He was very kind and helpful and we later became good friends. We shared our life stories and when he heard I'd been to BMC, he told me his friend Ray Johnson had also been to BMC and I ought to meet him. I was working at Juilliard at the time as assistant editor of the alumni magazine, THE JUILLIARD REVIEW. One day when I working at my desk in "the fishbowl", a large round office surrounded by windows when Juilliard was still on Claremont Ave (near Grant's Tomb), Albert walked in with a tall blonde young man who he introduced as Ray Johnson. Ray was very shy, as was I at the time. But we arranged to meet again ... mostly in the early meetings Albert would be with us .... but even later when we became more comfortable with one another, Albert was still a big part of our friendship.
No, Ray had not been to NY yet in 1943. As far as I can recall, what he knew of NYC was from my teen perspective "correspondance to him", which was mostly about my art school, the HS of Industrial Art, and the differences to art taught at Cass Tech, and the boys and gal characters, jokes and the art teachers approaches, which was much looser in NY and less disciplined, more individually laissez faire than dauntingly difficult Detroit sketching classes filled with detailed charcoal studies of reflections on the floor of lockers in the hallways followed by serious critiques, etc....great for the talented, a disaster for the lost uninterested unmotivated souls. Our mutual friend, Harry Katchadoorian, was so good at this sort of stuff, we marvelled at and admired his detailed "photographic" renderings. After all, when you are a 15 or 16 year old potential artist mired in the world of self discovery, that's what your life is focused on - friends, accomplishments, extremes, mentors, rebeliousness. An awful lot of our back and forth was about the girls in class. My guess is that Ray had not yet come to terms with his sexual preferences, unless he was disguising it, but why would he, to me? I also believe that some of the people characters in This is New York, are patterned after specific students and teachers at Cass we both ridiculed and liked, the way teens do, otherwise its too embarrassing for them to express actual feelings, seemingly mysterious and out of the blue. Having a creative intelligent 17 year old son now in my house and in my daily life allows me to observe somewhat objectively what it might have been like for me and Ray to comment on the secretive mode of friendships, fears, secrets, unexpressed or chache'd desires, etc. In a way, everything is coded against adults. As far as wanting to be a New Yorker, I never got the idea in 1943 that Ray was envious or imminently wanting to live and work in NY. Remember 1943 was during WWII, there had been no creative explosion of Abstract expressionism or freedom marches or sexual revolution. It was a much more bourgeois world to us. We generally obeyed our parents and towed the line. The fact that Ray went to Black Mountain before settling in NY testifies to me that it was the external influences in NC that convinced and urged him to go to NYC. I can't comment on his personal family life as I didn't know much about it except in a few jokey letters Ray sent, since lost. As far as fame goes, yes we all yearned for it, who doesn't at 16 ? in summation, Ray's correspondence was a cloak, a very clever esthetic discovery of noodling him into the forefront while staying behind a curtain in the wings. It enabled his real life personality to be pure while his art life could be profane and full of wild accepted fantasy. He truly blurred the line between his art and his life, a nun in sheep's clothing, a priest who fornicates on the QT, in this case, Ray's fornication was his correspondance.
Best wishes, Art
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
“The artist is very sensitive to everything around him. He creates from formlessness and chaos.”
Ray Johnson to Frances X. Profumo, quoted in her Black Mountain College notebook