Friday, July 20, 2018

Kolaj Fest New Orleans

A sweet wall on St. Claude. 

I’d seen a few things going around the interwebs about Kolaj Fest in New Orleans. I looked through the lineup of events and thought it looked cool. Kolaj Magazine was the main sponsor of the event, a magazine that I’d purchased before and liked. More than a few friends’ work has graced their pages. Since we were taking the week off to go to Nashville for a conference, we impulsively decided to add New Orleans and the four day conference to the end of our trip. I bought a ticket and booked a hotel we liked in the city.

Misty and I got in late on the first day, missing the “meet and greet.” After and eight hour drive from Nashville, I wasn’t up to scurry across town and talk with strangers. I was at the official meeting spot the next morning at 10am. It was at The Istanbul Café on St. Claude, a street I don’t think I’d been on before. Whenever I go to New Orleans I seem to unlock another section of the city. I decided to walk there from my hotel, going down Decatur Street, across Frenchman, up Elysian Fields, and onto St. Claude. That neighborhood (I’m sure there’s a name) is one of those that’s “in transition.” Basically gentrification is taking hold up and down the street, cafes and art centers are popping up, houses are being renovated, and I’m sure a bunch of older residents aren’t happy. Along the way I encountered more than a few pieces of graffiti about the change. The best said something about Air B and B.
No one makes calls from this phone. 
Istanbul Café was in the back of a building with “healing center” on the front. The building contains a lot of small businesses, there was a dog grooming center, a barber, a place for African style dresses, a free library, and a food co-op. All sorts of people were streaming through that place. I gave my name at the door and received a packet of information and a laminate. Thankfully the Café was dark and well air-conditioned. My mile and a half walk had me thoroughly soaked even if it was only ten o’clock in the morning. 
I wanted to go in here. 
Maybe there were thirty or forty people inside, most of them seemed like they were somewhat acquainted with one another. I sat off to the side and watched folks, most of which looked slightly crunchy, slightly punky, or that look you get from being a high school art teacher too long. Things felt pretty good. I was enjoying the scene if I didn’t know anyone there. Well, that’s a lie; while I was sitting I heard my name called from behind. It was the great Allan Bealy. I had traded mail-art with Allan for a few years, had some conversations online, and he even bought something from me. I would have given it to him if he hadn’t offered to buy it. The two of us talked for a few minutes. He even introduced me to a couple folks floating around the room, a pattern that he kept up for the next couple of days. I felt like he knew everyone at the festival. The dude is amazing, I seal from him all the time. 

The great Allan Bealy (NYC).
I sat and listened to people present for the next few hours. Some of the folks had amazing art. My head was swimming with new ideas. I was engaged, I really was, but right from the start I felt a slight tinge of awkwardness. I wasn’t one of these people, not really. The moderator often talked about selling work when he wasn’t talking about collage makers (I don’t think I can write collagists) being the bastard step children of the art world. These two things became a theme throughout the conference and the main disconnect for me. Without these two things, I think I could have enjoyed myself a lot more. The distinction is this; I’m a mail-artist first! Collage maker second.

I was initially drawn to mail-art because it felt like a punk rock to me. I liked that people were making things for no particular reason but to make them. I liked that there was a community that was built based on moving these things around the world without much expectation. The ambition was in the creation, not in the selling. Mail-art wasn’t meant to be sold. Hearing the moderator talk about community in the way of selling put me off since that wasn’t my ambition at all. If the people in the room, I came to realize over the three days, were able to sustain a career making things, it was as a commercial artist. They were doing design work, which is great. The collage stuff seemed to be on the side but tangentially related to how they made their money. Why then we were focusing on selling? I don’t want to be a businessman, I want to make things. If they’re complaining about putting lots of money into what they’re trying to sell, but not selling, then foster a community by giving.  If you do this, you don’t have any money (just like before) but you’re work is out in the world with people that want it.

Art school seems to be a demarcation as well. I heard a lot of people preface their presentations with their art school credentials. Going to art school seems to put an impetus on being a professional artist, and that makes complete sense. It teaches you things and opens doors, exactly what it should do, but it also seems to inflate the ego. Art school implies a want to be successful. I don’t expect success, I’m not ambitious with a “career” in art in mind, and I have no avenues to sell anything I make. Oh yeah, I don’t live in a major city, either. I expect nothing from the art world because I know nothing about the art world. The people that presented were often “professionals” because they went to school, saw the angles, and dove into that world. I’m not that good. I don’t know the angles. I’m ignorant when it comes to how any of this works. I don’t know about galleries. I don’t know all the street names in Brooklyn.

If putting forth the idea of collage maker as capital-A artist was on the agenda, something to be defended with pride, then mail-artist wasn’t in the conversation. I didn’t hear the words mail-art uttered until the second day when Allan Bealy said it onstage. For the ARTIST / collage community, all of this makes sense. I understand if you value your art enough to want to promote and sell it. I understand if you want a return on your college investment. I understand if you want to talk to a specific group of like-minded individuals about commonalties to firm up your base. Being a mail-artist first, I wasn’t of their community and I felt it.

The guy I really connected with on that first day was Kike from Peru. He runs an Instagram page called Canson City where he mixes collage with stories. Kike had a vibe about him. He smiled more than any person I’ve ever known wearing a black metal t-shirt. He didn’t seem to take himself too seriously. A lot of his art was funny, had a sense of life. It wasn’t mannered in that high-art collage style. He wasn’t a trained artist. When he presented, he spent a lot of time on how much he hated the Catholic Church. Many of his pieces were about the church, lots of pentagrams and images of Satan. Fire and such. While those images and motifs are often used in a cheaply provocative way, I liked that he presented them to that crowd. I loved his populist cynicism.

The days basically worked like this, you met for the initial discussions at 10am. Those ran through most of the afternoon with other talks and physical collage making up and down St. Claude. At 3:30pm everyone came back together at The Istanbul Café before the break at 5pm. At 7pm there was one more speaker. At the end of the day on Friday, Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator fame, spoke. At 7pm on Saturday there was a gathering at a local karaoke bar. At 5pm I would meet up with Misty for dinner on Frenchman Street which was in the middle between our hotel and The Istanbul Café. At 7pm I’d catch back up with the collage people. I did this for both days, not missing a single presentation. I was constantly writing down ideas that I wanted to see through. I make shit that I don’t mail, too…sometimes big shit.

I had no idea who Danielle Krysa was. I didn’t know about her blog, her books, or her podcast. Krysa’s talk was open to the public and the public came. The café was completely full. She had a lot of interesting things to say, I enjoyed her. When she stopped speaking I jotted down the name of her podcast where she interviews contemporary artists. I figure I need to learn more about these people if I want to “get serious.” I mean…I know the names of contemporary artists that send me mail, but not those others that show on blank white walls. When she asked the names of important female collage artist during her speech, I thought to myself, “Susanna Lakner” and “Carina Granlund.” Those are my favorite female collage artists!

On Saturday Misty and I went to breakfast and then parted. She went back to our hotel room and I went back to The Istanbul Café. This time I slowly sauntered through a neighborhood that ran right into St. Claude. While I was walking I’d stop and take pictures, I even found a restaurant that I’d heard about for many years. Unfortunately it was closed. 
A New Orleans nap. 
One thing that surprises me about New Orleans is that you’re never sure if you’re in a good neighborhood or not. In every other city in the US you kind of know, you can feel things out, either based on vibe or stereotypes. You know, like there’s a giant hole in the sidewalk with no safety measures to keep people from falling in, that’s a bad neighborhood. Not in New Orleans. That hole will have been there so long giant weeds would be growing around it, dirty water seeping from somewhere. Beautifully manicured houses are directly beside damp and dilapidated structures. Gentrification only seems to do so much in New Orleans, while in other cities it takes over whole neighborhoods. Everything is always a little dirty, a little dangerous. Your head is constantly on a swivel trying to figure out your surroundings. I’m never completely comfortable there.  I often feel that something bad could happen at any minute, something terrible. That feeling is addictive. I notice things more when I’m in New Orleans, I look around, take things in I would normally look past.

I listened to a few hours of lectures Saturday morning but I knew I had to move around. My goal was to make it up to Antenna Gallery at least once. I wanted to see Allan’s exploded boxes and Zach Collins collages and take a look at that part of the city.

It was a long walk to Antenna, probably too far for the middle of the day. Ten minutes in and I started to second guess my decision. When I got to there the bottom floor was locked. I stood outside and laughed for a minute or two, assuming that the whole building was closed. Upstairs I found ten people listening to a guy present about collage in academia. The second guy brought up his PowerPoint and started with, “I’ve only been doing collage for four years.” This sentiment seemed popular, folks only recently discovering the medium or falling into it without much thought. When they called a break I snuck around the corner to look at Allan’s boxes, about eight in all. The mix of everyday trash splayed out into something new, blasts of colors, classic images…wonderful. In the back of my head I thought “We’ll…I’m going to try doing this.” I spun around and marveled at Zach Collins’ work when I heard someone in the background say, “Let’s organize these chairs into a circle and talk for a while” followed by rustling. I got out of there quickly. I’m not a sit in a circle and talk about things kind of guy. I’d end up pissing someone off. 
Allan Bealy's beauties. 
When I was walking the route I had come from just fifteen minutes earlier, I was stopped in my tracks by a guy with a twenty-four ounce beer and a pit-bull on a leash. Normally I don’t stop for folks on the street when someone tries to grab my attention. “Can I talk to you” is never an acceptable conversation starter. Nothing positive is going to start with those words. This dude started with “How many blocks have you walked?” I have never heard that before so I stopped. It was the middle of the day and about ten minutes into my walk so it was obvious I’d been in it awhile. “Where’s the block party” he quickly followed up with. Holy shit! I was happy I stopped. I had information for him. “Oh, it’s just a few blocks up” I told him, having passed it minutes earlier. “Thank you” he said and swiftly moved on.

Directly across from Café Istanbul was a market. On the outside it looked like a nice convenience store in a New England costal town, inside it was filled with small vendors selling all types of food. The first day I had Vietnamese and the second I had Mexican. The place was full both days even though no one seemed to be outside, milling about, or even coming through their doors. It almost looked deserted. Inside you had to fight for a table.

There was a little time before the 1:45 pm session so I sat in front of the co-op making scribbles in my notebook. I was there for ten minutes when Allan showed up and sat down. The two of us talked about a couple mail-art correspondents we had in common, especially guys in New York he had recently met or had known for years. Some of the rumors seemed to be true. The conversation moved to Richard in Illinois and his massive archive and then to some of my writing. It seems that Allan actually reads my garbage about mail-art. I never know if folks actually read what I write. “Do you want to publish” he asked me. I hadn’t actually thought about it. He planted a seed. Now I have to do something with that, I thought later that evening.

We were joined by Joe Castro, a great collage artist who had just finished up leading a group of people making stuff together. Allan introduced me as a mail-artist and since Joe seemed nice, I asked him to write down his address. “I’ve gotten mail-art before but I don’t think I’ve ever responded” he said. One potential correspondence was better that none, he gave me a sticker. I’ll send him something.

After the last lecture of the day, I met Misty for Middle Eastern food on Frenchman. Strangely, it’s a place that we’ve ate at before. After dinner I dragged her to the last official event of the fest. It was at a karaoke bar where folks were “telling stories.” We got there right when it started so getting a drink was difficult. While waiting in line the “man in charge” said a few words directly to me. I misjudged his interest and answered his question honestly. My answer was mostly about the ambitious tone of the fest. Without engaging, he slowly walked away from me as my words trailed off.  When I got up to the bar I bought four beers at once. Folks told stories about Margaret Atwood, places to eat in Wisconsin, and dating Uber drivers. The tone was upbeat and fun, people were trying to get drunk. When the karaoke started Misty and I got out of there.

On Sunday they were a couple of things planned, mostly there was a “collage swap.” My intention was to go and give away my last collab-book to someone, but I didn’t make it. I gave one to Allan and I gave one to the woman from Cut Up Magazine when I purchased her work. Instead of going to the swap, Misty and I had a long breakfast and then played around the city. We sat in Jackson Square and watched people taking pictures in front of a statue honoring a real piece of shit. It was nice, we got to spend some time together.

While the fest wasn’t exactly for me, I think I got a lot out of it. My head swelled with ideas over the next few days. I have ideas for projects that came directly from listening to folks talk about their work. My biggest takeaway was the idea of community that I kept hearing about. Although I have no real interest in supporting other collage artists (not in the way it was implied I needed to) I do have an interest in supporting mail-artists. That Sunday night I had a plan to start a North Carolina Mail Art School. I went with NC just because it seemed like an easier way to corral folks. I put up a message on my makings page and then created an entry letter and a spreadsheet for addresses. I collected 12 names of interested people, some of them I knew and a couple total strangers. A few days later I made up packages with the pertinent information and then I sent them out. I’m comfortable with a mail-art community made up of only NC folks. Some of them would call themselves artists and others might have never made a thing in their life. Let’s see what they send. 
One of my first ADD AND PASSES was made from an image of this wall.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

I Made Seven Inch Covers for Cactus Black

I say yes to any creative assignment people are interested in me doing. Don’t worry, it’s not a lot of work, rarely do people ask anything of me. Namely I’m talking about people outside of the mail-art network. Mostly these folks are friends who want a collage of their loved one or something for their own creative projects. They’re always poor working creative types too, so rarely do I expect anything out of them. In other words, they don’t pay. It’s a punk rock I’ll help you out if you help me out sort of thing. If I like the person and I like the project, I’ll not only say yes, but I’ll take on the project with glee. Doing something I wouldn’t normally do makes me have to problem solve; it increases my vocabulary for making trashy collages. Plus, I get to collaborate with people in my area (mostly) which is exciting.

A nice overview of what I created.
Mike Tyson is one of those dudes, a guy that makes good music and is a nice hang. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in backyards talking about music with him. A couple of those times we might have been slightly drunk. Mike even took one of the images of Tucker to the Taj Mahal with him, posed it in front of the iconic building, and sent me the evidence. So…when he starts a sentence with, “Will you…” I say yes. Anything for the man in the black trunks.

He came over to the house to discuss projects. This was after many texts messages about what he wanted or what he thought he wanted. Since my “art vocabulary” isn’t that vast, I wasn’t able to effectively say what I could do. Pretty quickly we discarded his ideas for something much easier for me to complete. The idea was to create some special seven inch covers for an exclusive release his band Cactus Black, was finishing up. The covers I was going to work on would be included with a new official tenth inch release. It was a multitier thing; you know if you pay this much then you can get this other thing included with this main release. It seems to be the way bands can make their money back these days. Record collectors like those sorts of special release things, or at least the dorkiest ones.
I ended up making 16 different collages, all on bingo cards. I then glued them to the white covers and that was it. All of the covers were ripped tape collages. Mike said he saw the work I had at Aperture (way onto way) and got in touch with me. Those were tape rips, I like making tape rips, so I made a bunch of similar collages for the seven inch. Most of them had figures in them and most of them had out of context phrases attached to them as well. I worked on them little by little over a few weeks, scanning and then sending them to Mike for approval as I finished a new batch.  He seemed happy with them.

I liked the stark contrast between the white background and the rectangle card. The cover worked as a frame for the collage. Your eye went to the excitement. None of the images were themed to the music on the record or his project in general; it was just what I was making at that time. On second thought, I might have tried to match the tones more. At least it was a unique idea, something I could see an emo band doing in a small edition in the mid to late nineties. I kept thinking of that Post-Marked Stamps seven inch series, it felt like something they would do. That was my inspiration.

Some of the images shared to the Cactus Black Facebook page. The camera collage was my favorite. My favorite picture of this bunch is the one with the Bojangles box in the background.
Mike showed up to the house and picked up his covers. I made 16 even though they were only going to sell 12. He seemed happy with them, I don’t really know, two of them were really crooked.  Like the gentlemen that he is he brought me the new ten inch, a copy of the seven inch, and forty forever stamps. Stamps are as good as payment in my world, so sweet.
A couple weeks went by and I hadn’t heard about the release. I went to Cactus Black’s Facebook page and saw that they had not only been put up for sale, but folks had them in their homes.  The bands page insisted that people share an image of the seven inch with the group. People actually did this; people actually shared their limited edition seven-inch.  Five people did this! Like an idiot I thought I’d know the people who had purchased the seven-inch, I did not. So there, in people’s homes, around their vinyl rig, was one of my collages attached to a record. Normally when I mail things, people know who it’s coming from. Mail-artists know the game. Friends know that I send weird shit to them every once in a while. In other words, if you have something of mine then you probably expect something to show up at your house at one point or another. If I know you well and I haven’t sent you something in the mail, then we aren’t really friends. Strangers aren’t my usual audience but I’m excited about them having to see that cover and imagine how I made it.

You should go listen to Cactus Black.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Have a PO BOX

Jon Wayne
PO Box 1045
Lexington NC 27293

There’s no reason for me to start another outlet to send mail-art. Not that I send too much or too little, I just have too many things in the air at once. Right now I have a few collaborative projects going; I have regular correspondence, and things that I send to friends. Adding another avenue to my “makings” seems like a bad idea. Why not focus more on one of the other things instead. You know, finish a project or elaborate on an existing one.

1045 is well worn and handsome.
I’ve been thinking about setting up a PO Box for some time. There’s the usual worry of lunatics finding your address and sending you something they shouldn’t. Thankfully I haven’t had to worry about that, over the past six or seven years people have been respectful that I use my home address. Although it’s a worry, that’s not my main reason for setting up a PO Box. Over the years I’ve wanted to take risks in what I mail to people. I have no interest in disturbing or upsetting someone, but the anonymity would be nice. The surprise of mail-art isn’t there if someone already makes mail-art.
None of the post office boxes in my town were available, all of them had waitlists. I had to get a box out of town, near where I work, which isn’t half bad. The town on my PO Box is completely different from my home address, another layer of separation. I set things up online, filled out my form, and went in to claim my new address. I paid less than 90 dollars for 13 months. I got the smallest one. When the lady handed me the key she wrote detailed instructions about how to find my box. If I hadn’t mailed things with her before, I might have been annoyed. I didn’t use the directions just followed sequential order.
Handwritten directions to find my box.
I like the look of the boxes offices, classic. My box is in the location of my hometown post office, the first I remember going to as a kid. My mom would sometimes drop things off in the slots just to the right of where my current box lives. Since I work in the area, and mostly mail from that post office, I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a burden to drop in there every couple of weeks even though it’s over twenty miles from my house.

I wanted the first round of items to potentially be met with a response. I wanted a slightly higher chance that people could mail me something back. If people responded to me then maybe I could stay excited about the rather expensive project. To enlist people who might respond to me, I asked online friends who might want some mail. Pretty quickly I had a list of twenty people (none of which I knew) that I could mail. To add to the list I went online for random addresses. For some reason, I decided to send to both The White House and to a small art gallery in southern Texas. Oh yeah, I sent something to the MOMA as well. I ended up dropping the first round of unsolicited mail on Monday February 26th.

The first round of mail from the new address.
In the envelope I put an add and return in there, one of my four by four add and pass boxes, and a short description of the whole project. I went with two older projects to get things started, basically just changed the addresses on them. My alias is Jon Wayne, which I find to be both ridiculous and potentially part of my future “movements.” I’m going to send things in groups called “Movements.” Movement One is called “Randos.” For the second movement I’m going to mail to an apartment complex in Chicago. The idea was given to me by someone who travelled to Chicago and really liked that particular building.

In the future I’m going to make stickers and ask people to put them all over their town. The sticker will say to mail me something. I’ve also got an idea about mailing postcards to people about their day. You know the whole check “yes” or “no” sort of thing that people did in middle school? Maybe I’ll mail to famous people? I’m hoping for a 10% return rate.
Organization keeps the identity secret.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fame Makes a Man Take Things Over


I was waiting for the first official work meeting of the semester to start when Jo came up to me and asked, “Has Antoinette gotten in touch with you yet?” I thought it was a student. “No,” I said. “It’s a lady that works at the Dispatch. She asked me if I knew any ‘artists’ and I gave her your name and information. She’s going to be in touch with you.” When the three hour long meeting was over I walked back to my office and checked Facebook. I received a message from someone named Antoinette. I immediately texted her back and a few messages later we had an interview set up for Saturday morning.
It’s weird getting ready for an interview. You’re not really sure what someone is going to ask of you or how it’s going to come across on the page. Not like I have a lot of experience at such things, only one time before have I been quoted in print. The first time I was interviewed was for the Tucker project and everything came out quite nicely, no worries or annoyances. The main difference from the Tucker project interview and this one was the latter was just about my work. I had to talk about myself, which isn’t a big deal, just new. I get paid to talk so that’s not a problem, avoiding sounding like a complete idiot was my main worry.

A little after nine o’clock I went upstairs to prepare for my big date with the media. I basically moved things around for an hour and listened to podcasts. I wasn’t nervous I was just anticipating. Like a pro, Antoinette called exactly on the dot. Calling even five minutes later would have annoyed the shit out of me and deflated any confidence I had in her. She was fun to talk with, she was interesting and even from Lexington originally. We bonded over the word “obfuscate.” The two of us talked for thirty or forty minutes and it went well. It was fun. At the end of the conversation I asked her about our mutual friend on Facebook. The digital world makes for a lot of strange interactions. If we talked for a few more minutes more I’m sure we could come up with a lot of “Lexington people” we had in common.
Part of the story was to feature a few pictures. I was supposed to bring in some samples of my work for a quick couple of photos a few days later. I picked out some cards I need to mail, two collaborative books, and a folder with some ADD and PASSES in them. The photographer Donny is Lexington NC stalwart. I remember him taking pictures of my little league games in the mid-90’s. The guy is a town staple. I’m sure he knows where the bodies are buried, took pictures of them, and has the negatives. It took him a few minutes to get the camera set up and then a few more minutes to position things how he wanted them. He might have been in my office a total of thirty minutes. Thankfully the only person to see me in my “close-up” was Gerald who walked by and gave me a “what the fuck” look. Once Donny left I scooted down the hall to let him know what was going on.

When I hung up with Antoinette on Saturday I didn’t know when or where the article would appear. I didn’t know if it was an online piece or one that would wind up in print? Jo walked into my office early on Tuesday and said, “I’ve read Anoinette’s article and it sounds just like you.” The next day Jo tagged me in her post and then I shared it with my mail-art people, friends, and family.

Artist transforms trash into mail art treasure – Antoinette Kerr

“Most artists would be offended by having their work called “trash”-- but then again, Lexington native Jon Foster isn’t like most.
“I don’t consider myself an artist; I just make stuff,” he insists. Born in the punk rock era, the movie buff grew fascinated with the mail art movement a decade earlier. Foster says he found inspiration in the 2002 independent film “How to Draw a Bunny: A Ray Johnson Portrait,” which is described as a collage-style feature-length documentary about the Detroit-born pop and performance artist Ray Johnson. Johnson is credited as one of the founders of the eccentric mail art network.

Mail art (also known as postal art and correspondence art) is an artistic movement centered on sending small-scale works through the postal service. When asked for a definition, the Davidson County Community College English professor isn’t at a loss for words, but is intentionally non-committal.
“Part of the idea is about the communication and movement of art through the mail. Often trying to skirt any main territorial concept,” Foster explained. “Strange personalities make it even more exciting and interesting. We intentionally obfuscate.”

In the simplest definition, mail art is any art that’s created with the intention of sending it through the mail. Mail art can include postcards, postage stamps, decorated envelopes, friendship books. Foster was drawn to the Do It Yourself and punk aspect of the artistic culture. The term became codified in the late 1960s. He enjoys the idea that some of the “founders” of the network are still active participants.
“You can interact with the OGs,” he enthused.

Foster was mentored by Thomasville native Richard Craven (also known as Canard in the mail art community).
“He’s one of those guys that came right after Ray -- who is still active. These guys and gals are in their sixties. You can find their addresses and send to them and they will send right back to you. Pretty quickly you can have artifacts in your house of whatever this mail art thing is.”

“We are not thinking about the why. You make it for yourself and now it exists in the world and that’s a measure of success. That’s the ethos I am connected to,” said Foster. “Rather than joining a crappy band, people are sending strange items through the mail connecting punk rock ethos through some sort of artistic network.”
He is inspired by his love of movies, literature and travels to places like Japan, China, and “most of the countries in Europe that were involved in the World Wars.” Foster most often uses tape to rip images from magazines and newspapers and make collages. Some examples of his art are currently on display at Winston-Salem’s a/perture, located at 311 W. Fourth St. The display, aptly titled “TRASHY TAPE COLLAGES BY JON FOSTER,” features a few old and new pieces by Foster. “It’s a little messy, a little rough. I like the idea of trashy -- not necessarily managed or well put together,” Foster offered. “It’s trash, here it is, come look at it. Who cares?”

The UNC Wilmington alum, who holds a B.A. and master’s in English with a concentration in literature, spends his fair share of time analyzing art; however, Foster doesn’t worry about what people think about his offerings on display through Feb. 6.
"Just because it is a building, it doesn’t legitimize what I am doing. I am happy and excited but I don’t need a building to justify what I’ve done. If people will honor me with having me in their space, I say ‘yes’ and I am grateful.” In the spirit of the mail art movement, “It’s legitimate because I made it.”

Some of the numerous pieces come from a network of strangers around the world. Foster enjoys some interesting pass-along pieces that have contributed cutouts, postage, fabric, buttons from people across the world. Last summer, he made one featuring himself and his bride, Misty Kimel, that traveled its way across the globe with people adding articles of clothing to it.

Foster continues mailing things to people around the globe for something that he considers to be more of a conversation than conventional art. His musing, zines of music from his band “Nostrils,” and an eclectic blend of collages can be found on his blog site”
Antionette Kerr is a local new contributor and freelance writer.

I didn’t read the article right away. I saw it on Wednesday afternoon because Jo tagged me in it. I quickly posted the article to my various Facebook pages and continued my thrift store shopping, bought some decent pants at one store. When I got home that night I finally was able to look through the 700 or so word article.
I think the article was well written and informative. I think it encapsulated everything we talked about and fairly. It’s a great article. Like always, or at least like I always do, I have some comments to make about what was written.

-Ah, “punk rock era.” I love that she chose that phrase. This one sticks out to me because all eras (in some strange way) are punk rock eras. When I think of this phrase I immediately go to that dada slogan, “Bevor dada da war, war dada da.” Before dada there was dada…before punk there was punk. That silly punk / dada energy is always around, just lurking, just waiting to inappropriately say hello.
-As soon as I used the acronym “OG’s” I knew she was going to use it. It was so out of context that it needed to be quoted. I’m even happier that she didn’t define it.

-Richard Craven’s alias is spelled Canard, Richard Canard. Antoinette said that she was going to fix the spelling of his handle, and she did. Just a little thing, no big deal.

-After we finished with the interview we went back and forth with the word “obfuscate,” like I wrote above. Glad she put it in there, a tiny inside joke.
-Out of context, the line “It’s legitimate because I made it” sounds like a real dickhead kind of statement. I can see how someone would focus on this one line as some painfully overconfident garbage. The difference is that I’m confident about the process of creation and not about the thing I created. I’m not saying that what I create is legitimate or great or even worth people’s time, it’s the fact that I had an idea and then made it happen that’s the purpose here. If you want to see it happen then you make it happen. Here’s where, and I’m sure I’d get a lot of flak for this, the mail-art bunch and the punk’s line up ideologically.

-Although most folks use ADD AND PASSES I do like “pass-along[s]” as an alternative term.
When I got home, just a few hours after the article appeared, tons of people had commented on it. Some of the comments were from folks who’d never acknowledged any of my strange digital footprints before. Five people had shared the thing. In the years and years since I’ve been feebly advertising my work, no one has shared things in mass before. This goes for things I’ve written that are thousands of words long, projects that I was supremely proud of that took me months to complete, or “music” that I thought would make people laugh. Those individual things were met with mild interest, at best. I’d get a few likes and a couple of comments and then nothing…nothing at all. The digital life of the creation would be dead in a couple of hours. A kind stranger writing for a local newspaper writes 700 words about the whole breadth of my work and people are impressed. In no way am I discounting the article, I’m just trying to understand the response.

People are still “liking” the post even though it’s almost a day old. Does the backing of a newspaper and their online counterpart legitimize this stuff? Was it the first few brave souls commenting on the post that got the ball rolling? I don’t spend a lot of time worrying if people are going to like my work, but I spend a lot of time wondering why people like certain things. My thinking about this slippery subject has brought me to a few conclusions. I have some answers, I really do. If I like something I’ve created then others don’t, or at least they don’t express it, and they don’t buy it. I know one more thing, people like stickers of images they understand, they have no interest in abstract pieces that contain no figurative elements….that’s all I know.
Some of the comments were amazing, I feel like I have to share a few of them. Stef G., the person with the largest Jon Foster collection wrote, “I like my mail art just a little on the trashy side...” April R. in Florida wrote, “My collage just doubled in value.” In typical Lexington NC fashion, Karl wrote, “My mom shared this on my page! Cool work man!!” DJ, another former Lexington resident living in San Diego wrote, “The most linguistically advanced article in the paper in quite a while” to which my college roommate Wes responded with, “I can see my dad trying to read this article and having so many questions.” My former student and once Dispatch employee chimed in with, “Currently kicking myself for not writing this while I worked there.”

In the middle of typing all of the above I got an email from the school’s vice-president. She emailed to congratulate me about the article. In a follow up email she wrote that the president of the school, as well as the president’s staff, had read the thing. I responded to her in a slightly joking fashion that I was a little nervous for them to read about my work. I didn’t want my employers to dig too deep. I could imagine having to explain some of these things to the president, why I made them, and the many theories behind their creation. That wouldn’t be fun. In her final email the vice-president wrote, “No worries. It's all good!”

When I got a good look at the image in print I had some thoughts.
The image appeared in the Lexington North Carolina Dispatch on January 11th 2017. The front page, the one that you can see when you buy a paper out of a machine, had the same image in the top left corner but much smaller.  A former student tagged me in the picture with the headline, “My former English teacher is in the paper.” This was followed by some insightful comments from other former students, my favorite being, “That asshole failed me twice.”

My hair does not look good in this picture. I look like an actor from the 1980’s with a toupee on.  My hair looks like it could be from a nice southern lady who just dropped off her two kids at school.  From this picture it looks like the follicles would crunch and break away from the amount of cheap hairspray applied in a pink tiled bathroom.
Was this the best of the bunch?

Were my eyes closed in the other images?
My facial expression is also mildly worrisome. I look like I’m ambivalent about a strange smell in the room…just used to it, not interested in getting rid of it-an odor that I’ve come to know and slightly love even if it’s noticeably horrible. The nostrils sting but not burn.  I’m both ashamed and slightly proud of how the smell has permeated the fabric of my chair, made a home, and become back of my identity. I look forward to returning to the smell every Monday morning.

Strangely my neck doesn’t look too fat.
Glad the Panthers logo is prominent in the background. Displaying your passion for a sports team while presenting stupefying “art-work” kind of cancels things out, lets the good people of Lexington NC have some connection to my work. “Hate the postcards…then look at the Panthers logo and wish they could have gone further in the playoffs. Too bad Clay dropped that touchdown in the end zone.” In no time readers could be whisked away to comfort land.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Year...Making Goals

The Sent / Got tally for 2017.
I know that as every year passes, I tend to send more and more pieces. I have at least five or six different types of projects going at one time. When I started making mail-art I only made postcards. I created the postcard and then I mailed them. Things have become intensely compartmentalized and creating new things is only one aspect of my mail-art activities. I scan a lot of stuff. I print a lot of stuff. I facilitate ongoing projects that need special attention. I make bigger work. I make collaborative books that I collect, spray-paint, and then add a bunch of garbage to. I never made a conscious effort to add new things to my repertoire it just happened over time.  
I’m not sure that my 2017 mail-art tally tells me all that much. At best it gives me a ballpark figure of the things I’ve mailed. I only count things sent to mail-art friends in the 384. Things sent to people in my day to day life, don’t get a mark. Maybe I do this because I don’t expect to get something in the mail from them. I also don’t mark every piece that I send to mail-art friends. If I send a big pile of envelopes filled with the same types of add and passes or add and return projects, I only mark a few of them. In reality I probably sent close to 600 individual pieces (that’s a lot of stamps) to mail-art friends, as well as friends and family. The 575 figure received amount is probably right on target, I mark every piece that shows up in my mailbox.

Looking back at this year in mail-art, or making things in general, I feel pretty good. I think I’ve added a few words to my vocabulary that didn’t exist in 2016. The aspect of my creations that annoy me the most are the amount of time I spent on the digital end of the spectrum. I make too many damn copies! I attribute this to slow work days, ones where I can sit and play around at my desk, take those items home, and then make them into something else. Who knows, maybe that analog / digital thing will morph into something completely unique. As long as my work doesn’t look like anyone else’s (not exactly) then I feel pretty good.
Analog / Digital hybrid collage.
This past year, I set out to sell more things, especially larger items that have been screen-printed. People seem more interested in the figurative pieces that appear to be decorative…the tape rips, not so much. I sold ten or twelve canvases at a reasonable price and gave away about that many as silly jokes. I had my first solo show of tape-rip-collages. I gave a couple presentations about mail-art. I had a small hometown paper interview me right at the end of the year. I made a bunch of new correspondents, tried more intense decollage works, and continued to mail things around the world.
I don’t do resolutions but I have some things I want to work to in 2018. Here are some of these…goals

-Finish the 9x9 project. – Right now I have one and a half boards left to fill in, which is about 13 squares. I’ve been more than happy with the interest in the project that I’ve been working on since the start of last year. When I’m finished I’ll have 9 boards completed for a total of 81 different square pieces of art.  There’s a bunch of squares floating out there but I’m waiting a few weeks in between advertising the project just to get new people interested. There’s nothing worse than advertising a mail-art project every day, all day, for what feels like forever.
-Show the Trump cards. – Right when that idiot was elected I started a Trump ADD AND RETURN project. Basically the card had his face on it and a small sliver to write in some thoughts. So many people used swastikas or googly-eyes for their submission. When the idiot does something stupid I ask if people would be interested in the project…I’ve done this many times, I’ll do this many times. Since all of the cards are 5x7 I can easily fit them into uniform frames. It would be nice to have a show where they’re all on a wall.

Mim Golub Scalin (Richmond VA) sent in the last submission for the project.
-Limit my ADD AND PASSES. This past year I got mired in the world of ADD AND PASSES. It just happened. Although I like starting them and I like completing them, the amount of work is just too much. For me, pressing “print” is too comforting. When I press “print” out comes a long pile of things that I’ve created. Doing this alluring…it’s satisfying and can become seductive. I did it too much. When you sent a lot of ADD AND PASSES you end up getting a lot of ADD AND PASSES which means you end up completing a lot of ADD AND PASSSES. Slow the number; get less which means I scan less, which means I can work on other things more.

-Bigger tape pieces. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share for the Aperture show. Initially I thought I’d do a selection of items but I jettisoned that idea because I thought it would be confusing. Throw out some of the canvases with the tape collages and the decollages would make no sense. I decided on pile of tape works that looked good together. When I flipped them over I noticed that I hadn’t made any of these, in this way, in quite a while. All of them were done on watercolor paper for some reason.

-Force my aunt to continue sending me work. Six months ago my aunt started sending me these movie based puns. I love them! They’re my favorite pieces of mail-art out there. My biggest goal this coming year is to keep reminding her to do more and more of these. I just received the ninth in the series.

Three of my aunt's movie pun postcards.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Trashy Collages At Aperture Cinema

When I started making mail-art I started slow. I made a few pieces, mailed them, and then made a few more. It took me years before I made anything bigger or more ambitious than a postcard. Like most things, if you care about them, you slowly get sucked into every facet of the obsession. You start making larger cards, doing collaborations, and then pretty soon you’re making pieces not meant to be mailed. Over time those mildly ambitious whims start to collect in a corner of your house, and you think to yourself, “Why are these here?”

Some of the images waiting to be put on a wall.
Some months ago I had a meeting with Lawren at Aperture. I was invited by a friend. I said a few words and brought a bunch of packages for the folks attending. It was never really clear what my purpose for being at the meeting really was, but my motto is always the same when it comes to such endeavors, “just say yes.” If someone asks me to make a record cover I “say yes.” If they ask me to make a birthday card for their girlfriend I “say yes.” I do this not because I expect anything out of it. I always “say yes” because the things asked of me aren’t always what I do. Saying yes makes me try something new and since I don’t have a background in art, I need to be pushed in new territories-it is like art school for me. I’m also a firm believer in way leads onto way. You “say yes” here and you meet that person, that person (in months or years) thinks of you for that thing and maybe you meet that person…to do that thing…for that other person.

After the meeting I didn’t hear from anyone-no big deal, I got to meet some new folks and have an excuse to be out of the house in the middle of the week. Months later I got an email from someone at Aperture asking if I wanted to have a small show in their downstairs gallery. “Yes,” of course I would. There are not many businesses in Winston-Salem that I wholeheartedly approve of. There’s Silver Moon where I like to drink, The Bagel Station where I get my carbs on Wednesday mornings, and Aperture where I go to watch small-run art house movies. When they first opened I contributed to them and got a sweet green Aperture shirt out of it. I lamented a few years ago when they got rid of the cake pops in the lobby, but other than that, it’s one of my favorite places in town.  I said “yes” very strongly. I really hate I missed the latest Agnes Varda movie in its short one week long run, but that’s beside the point.
I was told that about ten pieces would fit into their space. Initially I thought I wanted to have a sampling of items, you know, the overall feeling of the things I create. Thinking about how that would appear didn’t make a lot of sense to me…too varied, no consistency whatsoever. To link all of the items together I went into the archives to find ten tape collages that I had made some time ago. Since they’d never been seen before, I thought it was ok that they were quite old. Also, I don’t know the rules for how these things work, no one’s asked me to be a part of something like this, I don’t know the etiquette, and I don’t know what’s expected. At best I figured I wouldn’t have to work hard to show my ignorance. The tape collages are pretty interesting too, something that could arouse some interest in random people, or so I thought. At best strangers might be intrigued by the glistening tape constructions.

I made a punk inspired flyer for the show.
To go along with the opening I made 40 packets to hand out to folks who came through the door. Inside the packets were a bunch of broadsides, stickers, and the new Nostrils record. I wanted to hand out the Nostrils record there because I knew it would cut down on my travel time. If my friends showed up I wouldn’t have to drive around to their house to give it to them or worse yet, mail it to them. I spent hours and hours on the packets. I stamped each one of them, printed things off, glued things down, cut bits of paper out, and burnt 100 CD’s. I chipped away at the project for the better part of two weeks.

Putting together things to go in the packages. I handmade 100 of these.
As I went back and forth with Maria (the point person at the theater) about the project, I got a little nervous. It was a nice feeling of anticipation, you know that feeling you get when you do something for the first time. I wasn’t sure how many people were going to show up, if any strangers would be there, and if I could sell something to one of them. In my head I figured I would sell one piece and three strangers would show up. That was my prediction.

On the day of my nervousness started to get stronger. I left my house thirty minutes before the official opening was to occur. The door was locked when I got there so I stood outside for five minutes in the cold. Hobos were yelling at each other. When I went inside Maria was there setting things up, the collages had been hung earlier in the day. I went downstairs to check them out; they looked pretty good on the wall. I hadn’t seen that many of my creations in one place before. Burns has a lot of my things up in his room, the most by any person I know of and they’re in one place…a small gallery of his own. I didn’t want to stick around too long; it felt weird looking at them in this way. Two weeks ago they were in a simple folder tucked away in a drawer in my house, and now they were hanging in cheap frames on the wall of a nice building.
Half of them. Elvis got the odd frame.
After checking them out, I went back upstairs and sat at one of the tables in the lobby looking out on the street. I saw Mike and Sarah with Clark. I waved at them. I wondered if Tim was still working. I had 15 minutes before it was supposed to start.

The first person that showed up came minutes before 5pm. She slinked downstairs to look at the work. From where I was sitting I could hear her talk to herself. I could make out words mixed with soft screeches and inaudible moans. It was obvious enough that Maria and I, the only two people in the upstairs space, looked at each other and laughed. Through the cracks in the railing I could see the woman taking pictures of one of the images while making asinine sounds. She came upstairs and started talking with me in what I think was a fake British accent. If she wasn’t drunk she could have passed for it. When she saw that some beers were for the taking she got a seat at the makeshift bar and had two drinks in quick succession listening to music on her headphones, mouthing along to the words. Her presence completely calmed me.
Slowly but surely people started showing up. Misty was the first there. All in all about 20 or 25 friends came to look at the pictures, mostly people that I’ve known for years and years, people I’ve gone to their art openings for or paid to see their band. My mom and my sister came as well as my aunt and uncle. The little upstairs place was full and no one really went anywhere too quickly. The mood was chill. It felt like a band might play at any second. Maria wrote that it was a party in one of her online posts. If my friends show up and theirs free booze they’re going to drink it. I think they ate all of the sweet snacks as well.
Here is my Mom pointing at one of them.
I was most interested in seeing folks that didn’t feel somewhat required to come, or at least pressured to show up and say nice things. In all about 15 or 20 people came off the street, people I didn’t know personally. One of those people was a lady that I had sent some stickers to. She brought her high school age daughter who also makes collages. I wish I would have asked what brought her out, where she heard about the show from, but I didn’t.

My main function was to give out packets and talk with folks. I pretty much stayed in one spot the whole time. It was a constant stream of short conversations for almost two hours. My head started to hurt. Some folks would ask me about this item while another would ask about that. I felt compelled to spread my time around as much as possible, which became almost dizzying. At 6:30 I knew we had to get out of the space since the movies were about to start downstairs. I could see nicely dressed couples with popcorn wonder what we all were doing up there, pause at the top of the stairs, and then finally slip into the basement theaters.

The show was a great success to me. I was happy that Aperture was interested in showing my things and I was more than thrilled that a bunch of friends showed up to look at them. The wonderful people Sam and Julia even bought one. This was their second purchase from me-a repeat customer. The whole bunch will be up until the start of February. I doubt I’ll sell anymore (I have information with the pictures) but that’s not that important since I’ve already reached my goal. Hell, I’ll probably end up giving away whatever is left to anyone willing to say something nice about them. If anything, I get to tick that box off of the “experience list” and who knows, maybe the next thing will come from this one. No matter what I’ll keep making more things, most of which I’ll give away or send through the mail.

PS – When I was putting the packages together I was basically going around my workspace and picking up anything that someone might find visually interesting, and then I’d put it in the package. The last package I made I slipped a Spanish stamp inside. It was just sitting on my desk. A couple hours after the show, I got a text from the person that received the stamp, a man born and raised in Spain, Alex. He kindly posed with the stamp for me.
Alex and his Spanish stamp.

Kolaj Fest New Orleans

A sweet wall on St. Claude.  I’d seen a few things going around the interwebs about Kolaj Fest in New Orleans. I looked through the...