In the Fall of 1994, I decided I wanted to be a recognized artist. First I needed a body of work.

How would I create the desire to create? I had been a board member of a grassroots arts organization, The Pyramid Arts Center, which provided a late coming-of-age for me in an arts community. It was also full of intrigue and deficits. Screaming matches, resignations and covert telephone taping were all part of the passion we brought to the arts in Rochester, New York.

In this environment, I became an artist. I knew I needed help, so I went to the local Arts Council and asked to look through their roster of employable artists. I was determined to hire an art trainer. An art trainer would serve a similar function to a personal trainer. As I was leafing through photos of artists filled with the hope of making a living as artists, I looked up and greeted Michelle French.

We had to cut staff at Pyramid. The uptick in arts funding in the Eighties had ceased by the mid-Nineties. There was some acrimony, some disappointment directed against Board members for not finding a way to salvage a full arts organization. One of the people we made redundant was Michelle who was a very talented artist. I think Michelle was disappointed and annoyed with most of us at Pyramid. We had not pulled a rabbit out of the hat. We had no real patrons at Pyramid, just a bunch of store owners, working stiffs and enthusiasts. Those few with deep pockets always managed to push their money further down these pockets while using Pyramid to their social benefit. The rest of us bore whatever financial burden we could.

I asked Michelle if she wanted to be my art trainer. She seemed reasonably confused as to responsibilities and not quite sure whether or not to trust me after the Pyramid debacle. I told her my vision. She would call me every day to make sure I had produced some work of art. And then, after a while, she would start writing monographs about my work. After a sufficient amount of work had been produced, we would have intramural auctions that would establish record prices for my work. Of course, we would never collect the amounts bid at auction.

For a few months, Michelle and I met weekly. I was a bit slow off the mark. She would come to the house of a Sunday morning. Jackie and Michelle and I would have pancakes. We would talk about world events, Rochester events, art world events. And then I would go off and not do anything.

This went on for several months at which point Michelle wished me well.

Faced with the loss of my art trainer, I realized that I had lost valuable time. I was galvanized. I needed to speed up the process. How could I get the recognition I didn’t deserve immediately? Even a monograph and an auction could take years.

The To John project was born.

If famous people thought I was an artist, then I had a good shot at being an artist. I would invite “names” to participate in an art project that would glorify and secure my goal of becoming a national treasure. And I could have to do it in a way that would appeal to them with their materials at hand. And so I reasoned, what do all well-known people have? They have publicity photos.

I decided to assemble an exhibit of their publicity photos inscribed to me, John. I would reach them by sending them postcards announcing the project.

I printed up four thousand postcards on garish yellow paper. The postcard read, breezily enough:

I thought about the celebrity transaction a lot. I used a reproduced printed signature rather than a real one in order to rebalance celebrity in my direction. I would have their signatures but they wouldn’t have mine. I also knew that they would have to spend more on postage to send me a glossy in an envelope than I would spend on their postcard. Expensive. But I was offering them immortality. And now, fifteen years later, I make good on my promise of an exhibit. I present you and all those celebrities who had the wit or the kindness or the ambition or the staff to participate:

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