“American Artistamps” curated by noted San Francisco Mail Artist, John Held, Jr.

19 May(WED) – 1 June(TUE) 2010
Vernissage : 19 May(WED) 2010(TUE) 6:00 p.m.
Na Gallery

“American Artistamps”

Jay & Na Gallery will sponsor the exhibition, “American Artistamps,” curated by noted San Francisco Mail Artist, John Held, Jr. The exhibition contains the work of American artists who create fake postage stamps, including historic examples by noted artists Robert Watts and Donald Evans.

Stamp collecting has long been a favorite hobby in many countries. Some countries are now allowing their citizens to personalize postage stamps by adding their own graphics and portraits to official postage at additional cost. Postage stamps have long fascinated artists, who have created their own postage stamps commemorating personal events and imaginary lands.

The creation of artistamps (artist/stamps) is especially prolific in the contemporary art movement of Mail Art, where use of rubber stamps, postage stamps, and cancellation marks honor and parody official government postal systems by participating artists from around the world. This artistic network has been in existence for fifty years.

American artists have been active in the production of fake postage stamp sheets at least since the early 1960’s, when Fluxus artist Robert Watts, began producing postage stamps as both Pop Art objects and in support of avant-garde art activities. He is represented in the exhibition by his work, “Airmail Luna.”

Another early producer of artistamps was Donald Evans, whose miniature watercolors portrayed different aspects of his imaginary worlds. He is represented in the exhibition by a philatelic souvenir sheet he prepared for one of his very few exhibitions.

The first exhibition of artist postage stamps occurred in 1974 in Canada. American artists Harley and Dogfish, both of whom were collectors of stamps as children, participated in this historic show, along with Evans and Watts. Ten years later, the term artistamp came to represent the field, to distinguish it from rubber stamp art, another important Mail Art activity.

Among the contemporary artists contributing work to the exhibition, Picasso Gaglione (Chicago), an active Mail Artist since the late 1960’s also known as Dadaland, contributes a conceptual series of minimal “Achrome Artistamps,” each a different glow-in-the-dark color.

Another Chicago artist, Michael Thompson, has very different concerns. His stamp sheets are very political, referring to such social concerns as gun violence, freedom of religion and the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

Al Ackerman (Baltimore) and Darlene Altschul (Los Angeles) cooperate in translating paintings by Ackerman into perforated artistamp sheets by Altschul. This long running artistic collaboration highlights the cooperative nature of the Mail Art movement.

Mike Dickau (Sacramento, California) also exemplifies this spirit by asking correspondents to “add and pass on” the artistamp sheets he encloses in his mailings to them. Artist buZ blurr (Gurdon, Arkansas) is an active traveler who meets many of his correspondents. When he does, he takes a photograph of them, makes stencils from the photographs, and arranges them in group portraits.

The late John Rininger (also of Chicago) contributes oversize stamp sheets that challenge the notion of stamps as postage. For his works are sometimes very large and printed on papers more suitable for framing then mailing.

Other artists in the exhibition challenge the nature of what defines a postage stamp. Artists Rocola (San Leandro, California) and John Held, Jr. use perforation lines in abstract ways, rather then the traditional postal grid. Their perforation lines go across the page in various directions, used more as an artistic devise then a practical means of separating and detaching images.

Hamlet Mateo is new to the field of artistamps and shows how the field has matured as the technology employed in the production of these works evolve. The majority of contemporary artistamps are now designed on the computer, printed out (sometimes, but not always, on gummed paper), and perforated.

The irony is that these modern works, designed and printed by twenty-first century technologies, are usually perforated on industrial machinery manufactured in the nineteenth century. Machinery for perforating is disappearing in our modern world of e-mail and self-adhesive stamps.

The postage stamp still attracts the attention of artists who recognize that this traditional bureaucratic symbol of governmental power, despite it’s small size and antique nature, continues to be a powerful symbol of communication, capable of expressing miniature worlds of textual and graphic information.

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