"Have you seen a Moticos lately? Perhaps you have. They are everywhere. As I write this I wish someone were here to point one out to me because I know they exist."
- Ray Johnson, What is a Moticos?, 1955
The word "moticos" was coined by Johnson in 1955. Moticos is an anagram of "osmotic," a word chosen, according to Johnson, at random out of a book by Johnson and his friend, photographer Norman Solomon. Johnson used the term to refer to a number of things he made after moving to New York City in 1949. He called the small collage panels he made from about 1954 until the early 1960s "moticos"; he also used the word to refer to texts written at that same time. In 1955, Johnson made an installation of dozens of collages (most of which he is reported to have destroyed soon after) using images cut from magazines and advertisements mounted onto cardboard. Johnson often used the cardboard that came with shirts from the laundry, painting, drawing, inking and sanding them to make the elements of his collages. He would make silhouetted outlines of some of the shaped works and reduced the silhouettes to small black glyphs. He would then arrange these glyphs in rows as if they were letters or words to form a sort of "text". The silhouetted glyphs became looser and looser in shape until they hardly resembled their original forms, transforming into “moticos” that resemble something vegetal, mineral, or figural. He used the moticos glyphs as textual stand-ins or referents to other texts or images in his work. Through this practice, Johnson developed an extensive, ever-mutating vocabulary for his collages.