May 19, 2024

How to Draw a BunnyHow to Draw a Bunny
The Ray Johnson Story

(Boston Museum of Fine Arts – April 2, 2004)
by Matthew Robinson

The late Ray Johnson has been hailed as New York’s most famous unknown artist. A friend and colleague of Andy Warhol, John Cage, Jasper Johns, and many others, Johnson died mysteriously, both in form and function. Despite his years of “correspondence” with hundreds of willing and unsuspecting cohorts, Johnson died as distant from and unknown to many as he ends up being to those who view this intricate and mystifying film.

Directed by John Walter and produced by John Malkovich’s company, Mr. Mudd, this film is as enigmatic and benignly unsettling as its creators. Propelled by the intermittent snare slaps of Max Roach (who is also never fully revealed throughout the film), this mysterious tale of a subversive subterranean hero moves along at a quick-cut clip of intertwined interviews and portraits of an artist as a young and not-so-young man. And though the interview subjects range from long-time lovers to the local postman, nobody seems able to put their finger on this prolific performer.

Nor do they seem able to advise how to create the titular character that, for reasons unexplained, became Johnson’s signature and creative calling card. Making a great deal out of Johnson’s “Nothing” and posing more questions than it answers, “How to Draw a Bunny” is an intriguing and provocative perspective on one man’s confluence of communication, commerce, correspondence, and confusion.

www.mfa.org
© 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR