Having attended Black Mountain College in the mid-1940s, Ray Johnson moved to New York and found minor fame within the burgeoning pop art scene. The "founding father of mail art," his reputation was built primarily on his collages, distinctive bunnyhead sketches and experimental performances that he labeled "nothings." One of Johnson's more singular performance pieces found him dropping a total of 60 foot-long hot dogs from a helicopter. Another saw him beating an empty cardboard box with a belt. Whilst hopping on one foot.
Among those who knew him, the common consensus was that Johnson lived his life like one long performance piece - that he himself was a work of art. According to Factory photographer Billy Name, this is what made him "an artist's artist." So when, in 1995, news emerged of the 67-year-old's death by drowning, the art world asked if this was the finale to a life-long performance.
Characteristically, the artist remained as elusive in death as he had been in life. Walter's film follows the enquiry into - and virtual deconstruction of - Johnson's death. This lengthy, labyrinthine investigation uncovered a suicide note that appeared to be an intricate work of art itself.
Walter's vibrant tribute to an iconic artist who built his own enigma consists of contributions from a remarkable selection of avant-garde insiders, including Roy Lichtenstein, Christo and Chuck Close. An homage in collage form, it's bookended by renditions of "Take Me To The River" (a comment on Johnson's death?) and boasts additional musical accompaniment from bebop innovator Max Roach. Starring Richard Feigen, Chuck Close, Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein and Billy Name. Directed by John Walter. Produced by Andrew Moore. A Palm release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 90 min