Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trashy Collages in Government Buildings

Whenever something pops up related to mail-art or bigger pieces or commissions or whatever, I almost always say yes. In the past this has come in the form of artwork for records, mail-art collaborations, and random meetings to “discuss things.” Some of those things fall through and others happen, but I don’t know what’s going to happen if I don’t say yes in the first place. My assumption is that I need the practice and why the fuck not? Saying no isn’t productive. Saying no means something isn’t being made. Saying no means that I’m not crossing paths with new people. Since I don’t get asked to do these sorts of things that often, I can easily say “yes” to all of them. That’s my goal…say “yes.”
A few weeks ago an email went out to faculty and staff and students about an on-campus art show. At first I was dismissive, not interested in the least, I couldn’t imagine who would care about anything that I have created. It didn’t feel like my scene. And then that voice started to creep into my head that voice whispering “say yes.” “Fuck it” I thought and sent the curator, the one art teacher we have on campus (someone I haven’t met), a message saying that I was interested.

Although I’ve sent to mail-art shows all around the world from nice galleries in The Netherlands to barns in the Ukraine, I hadn’t shown any of my bigger pieces. Since mail-art is quite democratic there isn’t much to getting something on a wall half-way around the world. Not that there was a selection process at my community colleges campus either, I simply sent my blog link and that was it. 

In the end I chose to show two different collages. One was a very derivative dada-inspired black and white collage I did last summer. It’s just letters scattered around the board. There’s no image and not much to “figure out.” Since I’m an English teacher it made sense to show this one…it made me laugh anyway. It felt like a joke I’d be expected to make that I doubt anyone will actually get. The other was a small collage of Otis Redding that I did at the start of the year before. I had recently put the 8 x 10 into a painted yellow frame that I bought at a thrift store a few weeks back. I chose this one because it contained a famous figure with even his name off to the side. People like what they know, what they can identify with, not something that is intentionally meaningless. I’d like to put underneath the collage “This is a trashy collage of Otis Redding.” It was a safe choice.
The instructions said to write a brief bio of ourselves, which I forgot to do. The curator reminded me of this omission. We were also asked to fill out a card with our names, when the work was created, and a price if we wanted to sell the thing. The last part gave me pause. At this point I have sold exactly two things outright. Some folks have given me donations but I’ve only asked a price for two things. I sold a small collage for 20.00 dollars once and recently I sold a quickly thrown together collage of Ian MacKaye (I ended up making four of these) printed on checks for 7.00 dollars. The 7 dollars was in homage to their notoriously low ticket prices. The Ian-thing was done as a joke so it was surprising that people were actually interested. Two of the four I decided to trade things for, one was an amazing print from Allan B. in NYC and the other for one inch buttons from John R. The last one I have no idea how much money they’re giving me, enough to cover the postage, I hope.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. I decided to put 50.00 on the Otis collage and 110.00 on the bigger Dada item. I don’t know why I chose these numbers? They seemed big enough to actually make me look serious I guess, but low enough for someone really interested to buy one and me feel like I made some actual money. In no way do I expect either of these to sale. I have little to no expectations about the show, like none at all. If the right person started talking to me about either one of them I would have given it to them.
Strangely enough, as I was writing this, a mail-artist in Germany, someone I truly admire, sent me an email. The email was asking me if I wanted to collaborate with her for a show in Stuttgart Germany. The piece she’s working on is about Trump. The only reason she’s getting in touch with me about this is because of my ongoing Trump add and return event. So yeah, it seems that saying “yes” and one thing leading to another can sometimes be true. I have to keep saying “yes.”

Part of the expectation with showing our work was that we show up for a short period of time. The art instructor had an assignment for her class connected to the show. I showed up right at elven o’clock and there were a few students milling about. The whole room was filled with items. In all I think I heard that 18 people had submitted items. It all looked quite great set up in that room. The art instructor did a great job. At first I floated around the room looking at what everyone had submitted. In addition to the figurative drawings and paintings, there were some hand carved bowls and spoons, jewelry, and a small display about “nail art.” I’ve always wanted to do something with this last phrase. While most of the items weren’t things that struck my fancy, it was nice to see everything gathered. I didn’t expect to see anyone at all.
The only discussion I had about my two items came from a couple students starting to go around the room. I described how I created the big collage and they seemed politely interested. One question that I heard over and over was “How long did it take for you to create this?” I’m not sure if the question came from the instructor or it was simply something on the minds of the students?

For a little while I talked with a couple of the other instructors about their work. I honestly had nothing to say. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation like this before. I wasn’t sure how to address what my favorite color to use (probably yellow) is or how I fit these things together. Literally, I have never had this conversation in person before. Sure, I think about this sort of thing all the time but I’ve never actually said these things out loud. Since I’ve never had an art class either in technique or history, I’ve never even been around this discussion before. No one that I talk to in my normal day to day seems to have that much of an interested in art, either in the wider scale or anything I make. Instead of talking too much like I do most of the time in these sorts of settings, I stayed mostly quiet. I did say how I picked spots to place the tape but that was about it.
After about forty-five minutes I was getting hungry and decided to leave. A few people were streaming in as I left. If I have anything to say about my work in this larger context is that none of it looked like mine. I was positive that some pretentious ass would have submitted their terrible abstract paintings but the only pretentious ass with abstract work was me.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Old Postcards

I’ve written quite a bit about my great-aunt on this blog in the past. I wrote about how she introduced me to sending postcards (it was her thing) and how a few books she owned made it into my mail-art. Those old books ended up going all over the world. Every time I’d see one of the images posted I’d smile.

Recently a few more items from her possessions made it to me. There was a bunch of old brochures and maps to make into other things. I went through all of the items to see if I could find any gems. Among the many things I found a detailed description of a family trip my great-aunt and uncle went on with her parents, my great-grandparents. They drove all the way to Nova Scotia in 1969. I’ve been to some of the places they stopped on their journey. I also got a nice stack of cancelled stamps and un-cancelled postcards that I’m going to do something with. My great-uncle collected stamps for most of his life. It seems that these stamps were taken off of letters he received and of course they’ll make it into other projects.

Lastly, and most importantly, I got a pile of papers. Some of the items were newspaper clippings my mom sent to my aunt when she still lived in Philadelphia. There were some letters I’d sent as a young child but most importantly were the postcards I’d mailed them. All of these were sent well before I started to make mail-art. In all there were 25 cards. Some of the cards are pretty cool. Since sending to her started the initial mail-art ball rolling, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few of those here.

Postmark  2001

Postmark 2005

Postmark 2001

Postmark 2001

Postmark 2003

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Warhol Never Had It This Easy

For a few years I made collages and then mailed them. Once in a while someone would post an image of the collage that I would then save and upload to my various digital identities. They would sit there; I’d do nothing else with them. They were done and living in someone else’s house.

After a while I started to play around with these more, mostly when I was at work and had a few spare minutes of nothing to do. Most of the time, I take the colorful collages and put them in monochrome, which really brings out the overlapping images into strange shapes. It doesn’t look like the same creation to me. Things pop out that I never noticed before. Then I started adding some color from Microsoft Paint, the thing I had available to me at work. The color would go wherever it wanted. The colors were vibrant and lacked any sort of subtlety in them. I liked how the colors often clashed with one another. Doing things this way was definitely an extension of my already trashy aesthetic. Using terrible tools to make things felt right to me since I make my collages out of found pieces of paper, newspaper, and student worked thrown out all over the halls at work, so why not use the image editor that comes with the computer?
Mainly I’d post the colored images online to folks’ profiles. Sometimes I’d print off the images in monochrome either for Add And Passes or for Xeroxed copies of my work. Sometimes I’d add paint to them and put them on a hard surface and mail them. Starting to play around with things in the digital realm really increased my productivity. It was fun to spend ten or fifteen minutes after lunch coming up with some silly picture made of found images, add in a caption, print them off, and send them to folks that would enjoy them. I probably did this sort of thing too many times, but who cares?

On a visit to a friend’s house I paid more attention to the art on the walls. This was the art that had been there for well over a year. Art that I had stood under while eating Flaming Hot Cheetos more than a dozen times while drinking late into the evening. The art was canvas prints of each one of the Star Wars movie posters. My friends run a print shop out of their house, mostly t-shirts but they can also directly print on canvas. It never dawned on me to have them print some things up for me.
I dug through my folder entitled “Colored Images” and found five that I thought would be interesting. Since they weren’t designed to be blown up, three of them were discarded right away because the file size was too small. One that would work was an analogue collage I had done using the outline of North Carolina as the focus. It was in a book of stuff I had done some years ago but had used randomly here and there. The viewer had nothing to think about when looking at the image…nothing to figure out, no real meaning. It was decorative and simple. I thought someone might buy one for their spare bedroom out of sympathy. It felt like a sure thing, something clear and direct on a 16 x 20 inch canvas for $40.00 dollars, done deal. Finally I could get some stamp money out of my bullshit, anything to offset the postage fee I have every week. I had two of the state outlines printed.

The NC collage printed.

I had an all-black collage printed that I called “self-portrait.” It was a bunch of random images tossed into one giant file. One of the collages wasn’t even mine, it was something if found online that contained my face in it. I guess the image came from one of the stickers that I sent out into the world.

The other image was done with the above method. Someone shared an image online of a postcard I had sent to South Carolina earlier in the week. I trimmed the edges; put it in monochrome, colored it multiple images, stacked images onto images, flipped things around to give some movement, and that was it. I did the collage rather quickly while sitting at my desk at work. I posted it online and people seemed to like it. Since the other collages didn’t work out, I went with the one done at work in its place. I had two of these printed.

The "blocks" printed collage.
Thankfully I was able to see the process. The two guys that run the shop, James and Jon, had me over to take a look at things. All five canvases took about forty-five minutes to print. James brought them up on the computers in the front, Jon sprayed things down in the back, and then James taped them off and then laid them on the metal runner the printer slides over. He pressed print and in about five minutes the whole thing had printed.  Warhol would have dreamed to have such a thing back in the 1960’s. Once it was done on the print side, Jon took the image and ran the heater over it a few times and stacked them in the front. It was quick and easy and everything looked great. The yellow on the North Carolina outline really stood out.

A few shots from the process.

It made sense to wait until the next day to post images since it was about 10:30. I figured more people would see the things if I waited for midday on Saturday. Not heeding my own advice I posted an image of the North Carolina canvas to both Instagram and Facebook, making sure to write that these were going to cost some money. Normally I just give my shit away. I waited for ten or twenty minutes before seeing if anyone was interested, nothing. I did this periodically for the rest of the night, and although I got random “likes” here and there, no one said they were interested in buying one. The next day I wrote that they were 40.00 dollars hoping the post would appear in Facebook feeds for a second time. Once again, nothing. I posted an image of the multi-colored collage online midday on Saturday. Just the jpeg elicited some interest so why not a three dimensional thing? Nothing, nothing at all.

So yeah, who the hell knows what people are interested in? I thought these would excite someone just enough to pay for the materials and get me a few books of stamps, wrong! The things I’m proud of never seem to draw any interest, but the things I do quickly that have a definite message behind them without much context at all, sometimes get traction. These were direct and clear and are sitting in my upstairs room. I’ll end up giving them away at some point/. Right now I’ve got an idea to print up a few more things that will rest with the others for an extended period of time.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

9 x 9 Add and Return Block Project

This is the finished 9 x 9 block collage.
Here is the artist guide.
There are only a handful of places that I find myself in a given day. I’m either at work sitting in a classroom or windowless office, I’m at home on the couch or upstairs making things, or I’m out looking for items. I’m a scavenger. Three days out of the week I’m in a thrift store, namely Monday. On Monday I go to five different places in a certain order. I look for old books, records, movies, and any weird piece of trash I can display or make into more trash. If I go “scavenging” for new items, I like off brand dollar stores. You know…the not-Dollar Tree type places, but ones that are somewhat similar. Places with “dollar” in their name that sell junk that stores couldn’t sell elsewhere for a higher price. They’re hard to find but I love them.
Mighty Dollar is one of my favorite off brand dollar stores. The one I mainly go to is in Thomasville NC but I’ve also visited the one in Kannapolis a few times. It’s a remainder store, a place that sells stuff worth slightly more than a dollar that wouldn’t sell in regular stores. Sometimes you can get real finds there, like real ones. I’ve found Moleskin notebooks (I bought dozens) I’ve found full bottles of Modge-Podge, and to feed my addiction, a ridiculous amount of ugly rolls of Duck brand packing tape. I wonder around and pick out bits for future projects that tend to pile in my upstairs room. I also buy my sunglasses there.
One of the sections in the store is the “craft section,” or at least that’s what it feels like. I often move through that section quickly. I don’t have anything against giant wooden letters per se I just don’t know how to use them. Right at the end of this section I noticed a pile of these square boards. Inside of the square boards there were nine smaller wooden blocks. From the packaging it seemed these boards were used for notes or something, not really sure. Being that they were made into equal shapes, which is something I often feel drawn to (I had that I’m too linear) I picked them up for closer inspection. Without rhyme or reason I bought a couple of them and took them to my upstairs mail-art lair.
The boards rested in a corner until late one night. I picked one up and thought to myself, “Why not an add and return sort of thing?” And that was pretty much it. I put it out to both mail-art friends and to real friends (one’s I see face to face) that I wanted to fill up a board with nine different works of art, anyone interested could join. Like usual, you get a lot of people wanting to fill out a block, mostly non mail-art folks, which was great. I started to send out the blocks and then it seemed that people from all over the world wanted in.
The rates for international shipping are insane? One block and a couple pieces of papers costs $13.50 to mail. That is just the starting rate. Two folks from out of the country raised their hand to say they were interested in the project. I felt obligated to send to them, which made me a little nervous since I wanted everyone to participate that was interested. I didn’t want to exclude. Somewhere in the process I decided to run a different project for those outside of the US. I was going to send them a bingo card that would cut down mailing costs to around two dollars. That’s a big difference when you’re talking mailing to ten people at once.
Out of the blue someone suggested I cut a piece of cardstock to fit over the block and then mail that. Obviously I’m an idiot since this never occurred to me. That game was back on; I started sending to folks around the world after posting on various mail-art centered Facebook groups.
So everyone could see the submissions and stay in touch with the project I decided to set up a Facebook group. It’s always more fun if you feel like you’re part of the process. Someone would send me a block and I’d post an image. When I got nine blocks I asked the group what order they should be in. So that’s where we stand, I have one of these completely finished while I wait for dozens of other blocks to come back. I imagine that I’ll get back about half of the blocks I sent out, which is fine; I know how these things go.
The first completed image was made by contributions from Laura Hortal (Winston-Salem NC) Brooke “Cooks” (Seattle WA) Patricia Landon (Del Ray Beach FL) Kathy Mcintire (Little River SC) Jan Hodgman (Anacortes WA) Camilla Post (The Netherlands) Angie Cope (Port Washington WI) Artista Daily (Taylor MI) and Jennifer + Josh Boyle (Lexington NC).
The best part of this whole thing is that I went back to Mighty Dollar and bought every board they had in their store, which means this project can continue for as long as people send in blocks or pieces of cardstock to go on the blocks. One gets finished and then next one begins. If I make another trip to Kannapolis in the near future I’ll see many of the boards I can get from them. And now I wait for the artwork to come in.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


Misty likes themed parties. Our most recent one was an anti-Valentine’s party, or at least that’s what the Facebook invite said. Everyone who was planning on showing up was encouraged to bring valentine’s cards for everyone. When I heard this was the plan, I decided to make cards for each person. Unfortunately I ran out of time so I couldn’t complete personalized cards for each person. I got through six or seven of these. To fill in the rest of the attendees I made somewhat generic cards mostly making fun of myself. As I was working people were saying that they were coming to the party on the Facebook invite. I’d see a new name and then have to come up with something else based on what I already had.  I finished them just a couple hours before everyone showed up.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Trade With RF Cote (Canada)

My collage is on the far right. It's hanging in Canada.

The vast majority of things that I make I end up sending off to someone, or I throw it on their front porch if they live near me. Only recently have I started to squirrel away a few things. I put most of them in this large plastic bin I have upstairs. I don’t mess with the bin all that often, just toss stuff in it every couple of months and keep it shut. Not only along I noticed that it was starting to get crowded in there and I panicked a little bit. In my head I had images of full storage units that were completely unmanageable, multiple ones strewn about the landscape slowly filling with things I’ve forgotten about. I had recently seen my future so I knew I had to asses my “collections” every once in a while.
The bin held about twenty items. I could see patterns in the things I’ve saved over the years. I had an Ice Cube thing in there, a Ray Johnson as a sexy lady, a few smaller collages, some cool abstract ones I’d done in a group of four, and then a bunch of other random things. This is not to mention the thirty or forty tape collages I’d saved over a period of a year. A few of the items I was quite happy with, things I could see someone wanting. Still it was too much.

Selling stuff was out; I knew I couldn’t figure out how to make that work. How does one sell their stuff? I’ve outright sold one thing before and that was it. Keeping all of the items to show was also out since I don’t have inroads into that world. I know that art-things happen in my town but I don’t think I have the right clothes for those people, my shoes not nearly smart enough.
Trades! (I know this does nothing to reduce the overall amount of “stuff” in my house). I took a few pictures of my items and then posted them to the various social media sites, mostly mail-art ones. I made sure to write that the things I was willing to trade were a little bigger and a bit more worked than one of my usual postcards. Here again, I often run into roadblocks. So many people that make things feel their work is far superior to everyone else’s. It’s the mindset many parents with ugly children have, the “my child is gorgeous” thing. Their one color line drawing should fetch at least three hundred dollars. I’m not saying my stuff has any value or is good at all, I’m simply saying I’m not precious about what I make. I’d much rather someone who might enjoy it, have it, than keep it around forever hoping to make money on it. That’s why 95% of everything I’ve ever made is given away.

The only person that was interested in a trade was R.F. Cote in Canada. He traded me for a sweet American flag collage that had bodies falling from the stars. They were shot. The collage is called “The United States of Gun Violence.” It’s perfect, it’s amazing! I ended up trading him one of my more abstract collages of the back of a guy’s head, some letters at the top, and a bunch of tapped bits at the bottom. To be honest, I got a much better deal out of it.
My whole purpose in writing all this is the picture that RF sent me of the collage in his home. There’s nothing that makes me happier than knowing that someone cares enough about a thing I made that they put it on their wall. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, but it makes me intensely happy. I imagine it’s a similar feel when a shitty garage band travels to a new town after only recording a seven inch. They get to that new town to play a show and four or five kids are singing along to the songs. That’s what it’s like for me.  And it’s so far from home! This isn’t a friend that was kind of forced to take something (I know this happens a lot) that I made for them. He actually wanted it. Anyway, it’s all backdoor bragging but if I don’t do it no one is going to. Now if I could get someone in San Francisco to post a few pictures I’d be super happy.

Trashy Collages in Government Buildings

Whenever something pops up related to mail-art or bigger pieces or commissions or whatever, I almost always say yes. In the past this ha...