Ray Johnson and William S. Wilson: Frog Pond Splash

Ray Johnson and William S. Wilson: Frog Pond Splash


From Frog Pond Splash: Collages by Ray Johnson with Texts by William S. Wilson, Siglio, 2020.

November 30, 2020
Ray Johnson and William S. Wilson
Frog Pond Splash
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Collages by Ray Johnson with texts by William S. Wilson

Dubbed “Ray Johnson’s Boswell,” writer and logophile William S. Wilson was one of legendary artist Ray Johnson’s closest friends and biggest champions. He was also perhaps Johnson’s most trusted poetic muse and synthesizer of referents and references. The influence was mutual: throughout their lifelong friendship, begun when both men were in their twenties, writer and artist challenged and enriched one another’s work.

Frog Pond Splash intends to suspend and magnify their relationship as well as provide an intimate portrait of the fractured, disappearing Johnson that only Wilson could render, through an also diffuse lens. Editor Elizabeth Zuba (Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954-1994) has selected collage works by Johnson that span the many stages of Ray’s work in his almost forty years of friendship with Wilson “ordered not by chronology, but by their own morphogenetic correspondence”* and paired with short, perspicacious excerpts of texts by Wilson (from both published and unpublished writings including Wilson’s manuscript on Ray Johnson). These juxtapositions do not explicate or illustrate; rather, they form a loose collage-like letter of works and writings that allow the reader to put the pieces together, to respond, and to add and return to the way Johnson required of his correspondents and fellow travelers.

Taking its title from Wilson’s haiku equivalence of Johnson’s process, Frog Pond Splash is a small book but many things: a collage-like homage to their friendship, a treasure chest of prismatic “correspondances,” as well as a satellite to the exhibition of Ray Johnson works from Wilson’s archive at the Art Institute of Chicago next year (Ray Johnson c/o, January 23, 2020–March 23, 2021). Zuba’s nuanced selection and arrangement of images and texts in this sumptuous little volume honors Johnson’s “‘open system,’ an undefined surface of indeterminate immediacies and immediate indeterminacies (and the rejection of any closed or consistent meanings, codes, language, or sequence)”* in its associative and intimate playfulness, and in its gem-like refractions.

Frog Pond Splash: Collages by Ray Johnson with Texts by William S. Wilson / Clothbound / 88 pages / 5.5 x 7.25 inches / 978-1-938221-27-9

Ray Johnson (1927–95) is one of the most quietly consequential figures in American contemporary art. An influential pioneer of Pop art, Conceptual art and Mail art (though he eschewed all of these monikers), Johnson’s extrasensory perception and insatiable curiosity resulted in an immense body of work that spans collage, correspondence, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting and book arts. A graduate of Black Mountain College (1945-48), Johnson also created an alternative network of collaborative art known as “The New York Correspondence School” in 1968, and is considered the founder of Mail Art.

William S. “Bill” Wilson (1932−2016) was an American writer, novelist, art critic, and teacher. One of Johnson’s closest friends and most important critics, Wilson’s criticism on numerous artists (Mel Bochner, Eva Hesse, Alison Knowles, Claes Oldenburg, Nam June Paik, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Thek, Andy Warhol, his mother May Wilson, and, chiefly, Ray Johnson) was published widely.

Elizabeth Zuba has translated or edited over ten books of artists’ writings, including several by Ray Johnson and Marcel Broodthaers­ as well as works by Nicolás Paris, Anouck Durand, and writings by Duchamp, Picabia, Satie, and others. She is also the author of two books of poetry.

*Quotes above from her afterword.

About Siglio
Siglio publishes uncommon, uncategorizable books that live in the rich and varied space between art and literature. Siglio is a small, fiercely independent press driven by its feminist ethos and its commitment to writers and artists who obey no boundaries, pay no fealty to trends and invite readers to see the world anew by reading word and image in provocative, unfamiliar ways. Become a Siglio Advocate and get all four 2020 titles with free shipping (this book, along with works by Madeline Gins, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Bernadette Mayer).

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