Earlier this afternoon I received an email from Jon Hendricks that Jean Toche has died. Toche was found in his bed at home in Staten Island by police today. Foul play is not expected to be the cause.
Toche, along with Jon Hendricks, Poppy Johnson, Silvianna, Joanne Stamerra, and his late wife Virginia Toche, was a member of Guerrilla Art Action Group. The group's primary years of work were between 1969-1979, but much of their activity happened between 1969 and 1971. Temporary Services, along with our friend Stephen Perkins, reached out to Jean in 2008 and interviewed him for a lengthy booklet. You can download a free PDF of it in a link below.
Jean was a delight. He had done few if any interviews in many years and the invitation was obviously meaningful to him. He insisted on answering our questions through the mail and treated the pages like a performance space. He was extra happy with the booklet we made and shared copies with friends all over the world.
Brett from Temporary Services was able to visit Jean at his home soon after we printed the publication and later I was able to make the same visit with Alan W. Moore. Jean was an extremely generous host, plying us with champagne and rich cheeses and paté in his garden. The garden was a great source of pride for him and he showed us before and after photos of what the yard looked like when he and Virginia moved in many years before.
Our friendship continued for years after the booklet and Jean constantly sent us hilarious inflammatory letters about whatever was happening in the world that pissed him off on any given day. He wrote countless letters to the editors of various papers—the New York Times in particular—and CC'd Temporary Services and others by sending photocopies. At some point he stopped using envelopes and wrote his outrageous messages on postcards. There was at least one letter that was sealed with nothing in it, and Jean's entire text scrawled on the back of the envelope.
Jean Toche never stopped fighting. He enraged his neighbors with his political views. His told me his cat was threatened at one point. He used his voice mail as a medium and would regularly change the message—often recording calls for action so violent and absurd that I'm not going to repeat them. I suspect he was always home whenever I called but let the call go to voice mail just so the caller would have to hear his message.
Well into his 80s, he never stopped paying attention to the world around him. He made a nude photo and text piece at one point expressing solidarity with Pussy Riot. He loved to antagonize the art world in his mailings and if there was a bridge that went from Chelsea to Staten Island, I'm sure he would have tried to burn it. At some point I became a lousy penpal and in 2016 the mailings from Jean fell off. It was hard to keep up with him but I should have done a better job.
Guerrilla Art Action Group's work is very important and should be more well known than it is. The primary book on their work, published by Printed Matter, was reprinted a while back and I'm glad Jean got to see that happen in his lifetime. It's still available and well worth seeking out.
Goodbye Jean! You were a lovely, kind, prickly man and a true pleasure to know. Also, you would have never seen this, because you refused to use the internet! Because you insisted you were banned from the internet!