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The story of the life of artist Ray Johnson is cloaked in mystery not only at the moment of his death, but also throughout a career that was difficult to know and to understand. As one of the seminal figures in the Pop Art era, Johnson is known as the founding father of mail art and as a collagist extraordinaire. But, overshadowed by those like Warhol who manipulated that world in a very dissimilar manner, he was also a reclusive and sometimes enigmatic figure who has been called New York's most famous unknown artist, but who challenged the commercial and critical establishment. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
"How to Draw a Bunny" is a documentary about Raymond Johnson, an eccentric modern artist (isn't that a redundancy?), whose suicide by drowning in early 1995 was thought by many to have been his final and most grandiose act of "performance art." Famous for his trademark "bunny" signature, Johnson made his name primarily as a producer of abstract paintings and collages built on iconic images from the pop culture world around him.
The film provides a generous sampling of Johnson's work, along with interviews with counterculture friends and supporters who often seem more bizarre and "out there" than Johnson himself reportedly was - although in the few video clips we see of Johnson, he really does seem to be operating in his own little different-drummer world. However, one of the problems with choosing Johnson as the subject of a documentary is that he was so innately reticent about himself that it was hard even for people who were close to him to get to know who he really was. Interviewee after interviewee makes this point about him, and yet these were the people who actually knew him! How much more difficult is it for us then - who didn't know him at all or knew him strictly through the work of his we saw and admired - to find out who he was. Thus, right from the get-go, the film faces self-imposed limits on just how revelatory it can end up being. In a similar way, despite all the words uttered about the works themselves by the people being interviewed, the film offers us surprisingly little analysis of the artwork's underlying significance and "meaning." As one of the women interviewed tells us, she never really understood what Raymond was trying to say through his works; she just enjoyed the thrill of experiencing them. And, perhaps, that is the best way to approach "How to Draw a Bunny" itself. Don't go into it expecting a deep and profound examination of all that it is showing us; just enjoy the artwork for its own intrinsic value and sake. That's probably the way Johnson would have wanted it anyway.
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