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
Solid Documentary, Maybe Not the Best Introduction
"How to Draw a Bunny" is a documentary on Ray Johnson, known as the most famous artist you've never heard of. And rightfully so: despite being a fixture of the New York art scene and having such notable friends as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Johnson never achieved the widespread acclaim with his collage work. Perhaps this film will slowly change that, years after his death.
I entered this film not knowing Ray Johnson or his work, which I think worked largely to my disadvantage. Generally, I like to watch documentaries on topics I am at least casually familiar with, to enter with a decent grasp of what will be explored. Going in blind provides an overload of information, and puts me in a position where I do not know what the angle might be. A Warhol documentary, for example, would have been more accessible, as I don't really much about him beyond the most basic information.
Ray Johnson as a person I think I like. The performances they showed were nothing special and his spoken word parts were not overly interesting, but he had quirks I really appreciated and think I would have admired him. As an artist, I am torn. While clearly talented, I do not know that his style suits my taste. Oddly, I enjoy both Warhol and Lichtenstein -- pop art is my guilty pleasure -- but Johnson is unlike either of them.
Perhaps most interesting was the story of his death. I don't want to give anything away, but this event is possibly what capped Johnson as a memorable artist. The coincidences, the mystery... it's all so strange and intriguing. I wish they would have gone into more detail on this part of his life...
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