Essay: From Gaglione to Dadaland to Picasso and Beyond

An odd-essy of art

By: Darlene Domel

Picasso Gaglione created many incarnations and identifications during his long career as a conceptual artist.  Some of the first influences on his art were pure New York.  MAD magazine was an early passion and a snapshot of a very young Gaglione with his friends in the offices of the magazine are among his treasures. The energy of New York and its cutting edge style became an integral part of all his art explorations.

While attending the School of Visual Arts he was introduced to many of the exciting changes taking place in the art scene.  The 60s were a time of the emerging Pop culture and the Fluxus art movement impressed him as one of the most exciting developments in that very radical time. The friendships that developed over the years with members of the movement, especially Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles have supported and inspired his work.  The concepts of Robert Watts, George Maciunas, Emmett Williams, Yoko Ono and Ben Vautier were also very influential. As a young artist he visited many exhibitions in the city where he first viewed the works of Nam June Paik, and Lucio Fontana. The reality inversions and absurdist doctrines of Fluxus twisted his art and mind.  In the manner of Fontana, he slashed all his oil paintings and never looked back.

In the mid 1960’s he became involved with the mail art movement as a correspondent of the late Ray Johnson.  What began as a small connection of artists in Johnson’s immediate and select circle quickly and exponentially grew into an expanding network. This network connected him with artists all over the world who participated in mail art shows sponsored by organizations and individuals.  The non-judgmental precepts of mail art and its outsider actions held great appeal for Gaglione.  He developed a new persona and created his mail art work under the name “dadaland”.  His work appeared constantly in shows and exhibits worldwide connecting him with practitioners like May Wilson, Richard C and John Evans.  Dadaland’s mail art creations were an overlap of all his skills: collages, drawings, and rubber stamp arts

Mail Art pierced the Iron Curtain and despite the dangers Mail Art allowed artists from Russia, Poland, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Croatia and other soviet countries to express their visions in a world wide setting. Rubber stamping became a particularly radical protest.  Practitioners used erasers to hand carve their art images because the production of rubber stamps was prohibited and ownership by private citizens was against the law.  All printing devices such as typewriters, presses and rubber stamps were required to be registered with the police. Yet elaborately stamped and decorated postcards concealed in innocuous envelopes traveled the worldwide network.  Often these contained radical political statements of protest and called attention to events that went unrecognized in the western world.  Gaglione kept a constant, vivid connection with these artists for years despite many interruptions due to political turmoil.   Many of these artists who disappeared during the years of soviet repression are reappearing today, and renewing long association with Gaglione.

Mail Art became an addiction for dadaland.  Each day involved creating, receiving, mailing and cataloging the mail. The mailbox became a museum.  A day without mail was unheard of and often resulted in despair and depression.  Happily these conditions were quickly remedied by frequent postal intervention.

Soon after moving to San Francisco in the late 60’s Gaglione and his best friend, Ronnie Annaruma founded the BAY AREA DADAISTS, a publication and performance company that was responsible for creating many radical art events in San Francisco.  But Mail Art remained his major form of expression and usually included rubber stamp images.

In San Francisco he met Ken Friedman and Jeff Berner, other Fluxus fans.  It was during this time period that Ken Friedman turned over the editorship of the Weekly Breeder to Stu Horn aka “Northwest Mounted Police”.  Stu produced a few issues and then gave the responsibility of continuing the publication to the BAY AREA DADAISTS. Editorship and contributions were shared by Gaglione, Tim Mancusi, and Charles Chickadel.  The Breeder is widely acknowledged to be one of the first publication to grow out of the mail art movement.  The work on the Breeder continued Gaglione’s involvement with media and communication arts.  All the Breeder issues are now highly collectible.  This is a situation that Gaglione finds highly amusing.

His collaboration with Anna Banana in the 70s resulted in the printing of VILE magazines.  These editions were based on the FILE magazines produced by General Idea in Canada. The editorship of these issues alternated between the two and Gaglione focused his issues on Mail Art and Rubber Stamp Art. The FEMAIL ART edition by Gaglione became a very popular issue in the series.   The first issue of STAMPZINE was also produced in this period.

The Gaglione–Banana collaboration moved into performance circles which included a tour of Canada and Europe performing pieces of Futurist theatre and other absurdist pieces. The performance aspect of Gaglione’s career continued with several video performances and theater pieces under the name BLACK ROSE THEATER.

It was during this time that Gaglione and his cousin Tim Mancusi created the DADA BROTHERS. The 5 foot tall, hot pink portable structures were constructed from discarded packing boxes gleaned from the dumpster at the garment company where both men were employed. The cousins spent many hours down in the warehouse basement after work cutting, pasting, building and painting the structures. Each completed DA was outfitted with peepholes, shoulder supports and vent holes.  With only brightly colored legs visible under the contraptions they invaded the San Francisco entertainment scene. Few events or parades were safe from an invasion of the hot pink DADA brothers.

The 80’s found Gaglione’s life changing again. When A. Banana decided to relocate back to Canada he found himself in a difficult position.  He shared custody of his daughter in San Francisco and found it was not acceptable to take her with him to Canada.  He dissolved his partnership with the Banana. This event was documented as the Banana Split.

Shortly after this event he began a new life with the woman who would become his wife, Darlene Domel.  This change also started a different creative chapter in his work.  In 1981 he formed his first rubber stamp company.  This decision was spurred by the purchase of a used vulcanizer machine for producing rubber stamps. This was initially described by himself as a money saving decision.  Ensuing events did not immediately support that statement.  Soon Gaglione was building many shelves into the walls of the basement and acquiring a plethora of shoe boxes for storage.  The stamps were used in his mail art work and then began to be recognized and solicited by other artists.  When excess production began to take over the space Gaglione and Darlene decided to try to sell stamps at flea markets in the area. To their delight this was a profitable decision.  The demand for the stamps grew.

Aided and abetted by his supportive though often perplexed wife he created a more cohesive line of rubber stamps consisting of vintage Victorian images similar to those he had used in his artwork for years. He produced a catalog of the images and together Darlene and Gaglione decided that the name of this new venture would be “Abracadada”, an oblique reference to his mail art name – dadaland.  .

In this environment he also created the first rubber stamp museum, building shelves into the spaces between the joists in the basement walls and filling the spaces with thematic stamps he had collected over the years.  A video shot by Kaylyn Campbell at this time can be viewed online at YouTube under the title “Abracadada Rubber Stamp Museum”.

The business grew and soon new quarters were required.  They found the perfect space for the shop on 8th Street in an area off downtown San Francisco.  Working with a few tools and some talented friends Gaglione and Darlene transformed the raw space into a colorful and comfortable factory and retail space.  They also changed the name of the company to “Stamp Francisco”.

Gaglione made plans to create an enlarged version of basement museum in this new space.  He decided to call it the STAMP ART GALLERY.  After much discussion and debate a section of this new space was dedicated to that activity.

His purpose in the gallery was to show the works of artists working with rubber stamps. His model was the Stempelplaats Gallery in Amsterdam a place he visited in the course of his European travels. This venue made a very strong impression on him.  That unique gallery was dedicated to the exposition of rubber stamp art and Gaglione was determined to create the American counterpart in San Francisco.

In order to determine what exhibits he would produce he did extensive research on each subject.  He explored informative texts from the works of the Russian Futurists in the early part of the 20th century to treatises on more modern artists who worked with stamps: like Andy Warhol, Yves Klein and Picasso. He seemed to have a gift for uncovering rubberstamp works that had never been promoted before and discovering works by well known artists that contained rubber stamp images.

In the Stempelplaats manner, he also discovered and exhibited many new artists working in the rubber stamp medium.  Never before shown artists such as Cyndi Fox, Janet Hofracker, Susan Newell, Charlotte Elsner, Mars Tokyo and many others found recognition and representation at the Stamp Art Gallery.

Beginning in 1990 Picasso put up a new show every month and for each show he created a unique catalog documenting the work.  Each catalog was produced on an unusual copier that allowed him to control the color applications individually and resulted in some very striking artworks.  Every catalog cover was created by Picasso.  The catalogs were indexed and hand bound in the manner of Stampzine. The complete collection of these catalogs was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York for its permanent archive. He also created a poster for each show and often created a rubber stamp or a set of stamps to accompany the exhibit. These stamp sets were created in the manner of the Fluxus Post Kit, with stamps, artist stamps and/or booklets that documented the featured artist.

In 1995 John Held Jr. joined the gallery as curator, assisting Gaglione. As longtime mail art contributors and friends they had worked together on projects over the years and this joint venture was a natural development.  Held was also very familiar with the Stempelplaats concept and supportive of Gaglione’s vision. He also understood the historic importance of the gallery and began to archive the materials that had previously been kept in a somewhat freeform artistic fashion.  With his support over the next two years they elevated and expanded the concepts that exemplified the gallery’s precepts.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Gaglione also continued in the production of STAMPZINE.  These collaborative works consisted of pages contributed by artists throughout the mail art network as well as rubber stamp artists.  STAMPZINE was an assemblage publication with simple requirements.  Participants were asked to provide 75 pages of 8 ½” x 11” paper of any design.  Each page had to include a hand stamped image.  Pages could be collaged, painted, photocopied, hand written, printed or even molded, as long as the page included a hand stamped image in the design.  Gaglione created a cover and index for each issue and collated all the issues. Each participant received, sometime later, a book of completely original art, his own and that of each contributor.

STAMPZINE is one of the earliest examples of “zine” construction and maintained a nearly yearly schedule of production.  These issues are now also highly collectible Extra editions were sought after and are part of the special collections sections of the Modern Art Museum in New York City, the Chicago Art Institute, the San Francisco Public Library, the Getty in Los Angeles, the Tate Museum in London and both the Postal Museum and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Mail Art Movement reached into the Far East and names of artists from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Hong Kong began to appear regularly in catalogs of shows around the world.  When the Mail Art Guild was formed in Japan in the 90’s in recognition of his contribution to the movement Gaglione was named as one of the ten original Masters.  It is an honor he prizes greatly. Friendships formed with artists in these countries have continued to the present day.

His latest adventure involved a move to Chicago, Illinois where he began a new rubber stamp company called STAMPLAND, and a new gallery and museum called STAMP ART MUSEUM.  The Museum features rubber stamp artists in tri-monthly shows.  This is the  not only the location for his rubber stamp business and gallery but also an excellent venue for the exposition of the antique rubber stamp sets collected over the years by Picasso and Darlene.

At the Stamp Art Museum his creation of box sets has continued unabated.  These box sets pay homage to the famous FLUX KITS from the sixties but are unique and faithful only to his personal vision.

As he did in the Stamp Art Gallery he produced each set personally. Each box develops from some unique idea or a little known fact gleaned from his art research.  It may or may not relate to rubberstamp activity.  Some sets pay homage to artists that he admires.  Some capture a moment in art history or document an activity of an artist he admires.  Each set is assembled carefully by hand.  The choice of the box may inspire a piece so the boxes vary with each set.

The structure of the sets is usually, but not always similar.  Each box set has a theme, and may or may not contain the following: a booklet or set of artist stamps- perforated like postage stamps.  Gaglione perforates these sheets himself on his antique perforator. He may create postcards for the set.   Each set contains a rubber stamp or several that he has designed and produced himself.  He includes a booklet or a label explaining the contents.  He creates each booklet by hand stamping every letter of every word with individual rubber stamp letters. He often uses stamps from one of the many antique stamp sets he has collected over the years.   He assembles the contents and designs a unique label for each box.  Often he remembers to date and sign or number the boxes…most often he forgets.

Each set is a limited edition but the number of each edition is flexible to the point of whimsy.  The box sets are the most disciplined expression of the art that he creates spontaneously.  The box sets comprise all aspects of his artwork: rubber stamps, artist stamps, book design, communication and construction but are never formulaic or repetitious. They are treasure boxes of art secrets revealed. .

In addition to his other activities Picasso Gaglione has never stopped being a performance artist. He has performed at the Minneapolis Center for the Book Arts, the Chicago Center for the Book Arts, and the San Francisco Library.  His latest appearance was at the Harris Theater in Chicago performing with the CHICAGO FLUXUS ENSEMBLE.  He has collaborated with Neo-Fluxus artist Keith Buchholz in many of these productions creating the DADA machine FLUXUS performance company. This year they will be presenting Fluxus performances at the Stendhal Gallery, and in and out of Printed Matter in New York.

Please be advised:

Gaglione-Dadaland-Picasso may appear without warning whatsoever at a city near you.

He is DADA machine FLUXUS.  Who he may become next is a surprise for the futurists.

© Darlene Domel 2010

One thought on “Essay: From Gaglione to Dadaland to Picasso and Beyond

  1. William (Picasso)-
    I love learning more about the way you have participated in art history. Glad the gallery exhibit went well. You are one of a kind and I am pleased to know you and have you in my family. BRAVO!

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