Ray Johnson: An Illustrated Life in Art is an examination of images and ephemera from the idiosyncratic and “famously unknown” pop collagist and mail artist Ray Johnson (1927–1995), illustrating themes in Johnson’s life as well as using his life to provide a context for the works of art. The overall purpose is the reciprocal illumination of Johnson’s sexuality and his visual art. Wilson first met Johnson in 1956 and wrote several essays about Johnson’s art, including “Ray Johnson Aboveboard” in From BMC to NYC: The Tutelary Years of Ray Johnson (BMC Museum, 2010) and “The One and the Other” in Ray Johnson: Correspondences (Wexner Art Center, 2000). Johnson designated Wilson’s home the Ray Johnson Archives and donated publications and information to the archive. His book is informed by decades of cataloguing this archive, as well as the recent unearthing of unknown early poems, drawings, and photographs.
William Wilson graduated with honors in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He went on to Yale University, where he received an MA and PhD in English literature. He taught at Queens College, Columbia University, Cooper Union, and the School of Visual Arts. He lectured on Eva Hesse at the Jeu de Paume, Tate Modern, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and at the College Art Association meeting in New York. His novel Birthplace: Moving Into Nearness (North Point Press, 1982) was nominated for a Pen-Faulkner Award.