Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ray Johnson collages and street photos.

I noticed an advert for a new gallery near Liverpool street called Raven Row, last week. The inaugural show was of the artist Ray Johnson, who worked with collages and started the mass movement of mail art.
The gallery is in a lovely building, whose history below is on the galleries site.

56 and 58 Artillery Lane were built around 1690 on land that was previously a weapons practice ground, and in the Middle Ages the site of the monastery of St. Mary Spital, the largest hospital in Europe. In the 1750s the buildings were transformed into luxury shops in the Rococo style by Huguenot silk merchants, Protestant settlers from France. Nonconformist and politically dissenting groups as well as immigrants began settling in Spitalfields, which experienced waves of violent protest, often by journeymen weavers against wage exploitation. In 1827 no. 58 was modernised with a plain Regency front, only a few years before the weaving economy in Spitalfields collapsed and the area became impoverished. 56 and 58 Artillery Lane housed many families who worked in the local food markets. Rebecca Levy, whose family moved in

to the building in 1925, still lives on its top floor.

There was a large collection of Ray Johnson's work over 3 floors, including many examples of his collages and mail art. It was good to see the multi- layered collages, with their symbolic figures and signs, some very humorous, and some of the quantity of pieces he sent out over the years. He used the popular icons of the times in advertising and celebrity culture of which he was sometimes part.Sadly Ray Johnson died in 1995 after swimming off in the sea.

Walking around the smaller streets near the gallery it was just possible to see traces of the old part of the city, most of the area has been completely modernised now.

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