The Written Image: Not Nothing

Hours after artist and writer Ray Johnson, dressed in all black, swam out into New York’s Sag Harbor Cove on January 13, 1995, his body washed ashore on a nearby beach. Many interpreted Johnson’s apparent suicide at age sixty-seven to be a final artistic act—a theory that took hold after police discovered hundreds of Johnson’s collages carefully displayed in the artist’s Long Island home. Now, almost twenty years later, Siglio Press is honoring Johnson’s legacy with a new collection of his art and writing. In Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954–1994, forthcoming in July, editor Elizabeth Zuba has collected more than two hundred of Johnson’s mostly unpublished writings and letters, which he created for friends and strangers he admired, including poet Marianne Moore, artists Marcel Duchamp, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, and many others. After moving to New York City in 1949, Johnson destroyed many of his canvases and founded the New York Correspondence School, whose members exchanged letters like those below (included in the new collection), which Johnson intended to be altered by their recipients. In June Siglio Press also released a new edition of The Paper Snake, a previously out-of-print collection of Johnson’s art and writing originally published by Something Else Press in 1965.

[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article contained a number of errors: Ray Johnson was not involved in "several avant-garde and performance communities" at the time of his death; the artist did not intend his letters as "conceptual art pieces"; Johnson did not move to New York City to be an abstract painter but rather because his lover lived there; and he did not intend for his letters to be copied or defaced, but rather to be altered and returned or passed along.]