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.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Made With Susanna Lakner

The work resting on what looks like a very comfortable couch.

I made the faces on the right and sent them as postcards.
A few months ago (maybe six months ago) Susanna Lakner in Germany asked me for some materials. She’d seen a couple images I had done with random dictators, primarily of the North Korean variation. These were juxtaposed with the newly elected American president, or at least inspired by him. She wanted copies of the images and whatever ephemera I had laying around. Being that I have immense respect for Susanna, I immediately collected the materials and sent them to her.

I distinctly remember sending her a bunch of leftover pieces from my most recent tape-rip endeavors. Mostly I sent her the cut off bits of tape from around postcards that tend to collect at the top of my trashcan. I like using these as much as I can. So often a lot of projects meld together in one impromptu tape collage. Sometimes I pick apart the pieces and then add them to current works and other times I make standalone and spare collages out of the garbage. “None of the animal” goes to waste. I put all of these things in a few separate envelopes to save on postage, and then mailed them to Susanna. When she got the materials she said it was exactly what she was looking for. This was the last I’d heard from her about the project, one she said she was asked to complete for a gallery. I forget about sending her my portion of the project.

Let me back up, Susanna’s work is a constant inspiration to me. I have more than once stolen ideas directly from her. I think she’s amazing. When I read the message that she wanted to do a collaborative project with me, I likened it to a punk band being asked to open for their idols.  You know, bands just getting started, not yet ready for the primetime being legitimized by the big dogs…yeah, that’s what I felt like.

Out of the blue I got an email from Susanna. The subject line read “Themenausstellung -DAS NEUE BRAUN.” I have no idea what that means? The body of the message read “Susanna Lakner (D), Jon Foster (USA): Presidenten 2017v42 x 93 cm Papier Collage auf Holzfaserplatte” and was accompanied by the two images I’ve posted here. I think it looks great. I’m thankful to Susanna for asking me to supply some bits. I wish I could see it hanging on a wall. Anyway, so excited.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Awkward Gift is the Best

My last entry was tangentially related to what I’m writing here. It’s a follow-up of sorts, an update. In my last entry I wrote about how I often give images of my face to people. Sometimes I mail these and sometimes they’re given directly to someone. I’ll hand it to them or just leave it in their mailbox without any warning. Rarely do I know what becomes of these items. I’m pretty sure one my friends recently left something I made for them at a public place while I was still with them. There’s nothing better than that feeling when someone opens a package and has the look of “What am I going to do with this” on their face. Some get the joke (if there’s a clear one) and others are confused.

I’ve become infatuated with the idea of the “awkward gift.” Giving something to make another person completely unsure of how to respond. Those sorts of emotions seem a lot more lasting to me. A pretty picture is a pretty picture, they’re everywhere. In effect I’m saying, “Here’s this piece of shit, figure out what to do with it.” I’m giving someone a burden in the shape of “art.” I often imagine there is a negotiation of what to do with it. Do they think of my feelings and put it up somewhere in the house (not a public place) or do they say “fuck that” and hide…or throw it away? I tend to give these sorts of gifts to people who get the joke or who are kind enough to think about what to do with it. If they’re kind then the “awkward gift” has worked. I have plenty of friends that if I gave something like this to would look at it and say out loud “what the fuck is this” and then toss in the trash. That’s no fun; no real emotional terrorism has been negotiated there. The ones that get the joke and laugh are fine, but the ones who have no idea why they’re holding this thing in their hands, are the true targets. Who knows what mail-artists think?
Me, Dillon, Me.
One person I’ve really enjoyed giving these things to is my nephew, Dillon. He gets it, or at least knows that it’s a joke and wants to play along. He’s a good sport even if he isn’t sure why he’s getting another (there’s been a lot) collages of my head. Periodically I mail him my visage or give him one or two or three as a Christmas present. It’s great fun to me.

Recently I had the Tuttle Twins make a bunch of canvas prints of my various creations. Mostly these were designed to make me a little money, which was the case for the most part. I also had them to print a simple digital creation of my face with the word “Hey” at the top. These were only meant to be given as a present. I had four or five of them made.

Obviously I gave one to my nephew. I presented it to him in a parking lot, which seemed appropriate. I painted the frame a horrible yellow color which made it even more difficult to look at. It’s an image that’s impossible not to notice. Even the image I used of my face in a horrific scowl was meant to make the viewer uneasy. The “hey” at the top seemed like a nice neutralizing affect. “Hey, this is ugly” I thought the image might say to the viewer. When I looked at the thing I giggled, so why wouldn’t other people.
I hand the image to him (along with some coins in a jar) and he laughs. He even says that he has the other ones I’ve given him up in his room, like on the wall…displayed. This I didn’t believe but I loved it. In my head I imagined a friend coming into his room, looking up at the collages of my face, and asking “What they hell those are for?” How could you explain them, and if you could explain them, then what is the other person thinking.

“Oh, that is my uncle” my nephew might tell this hypothetical friend.

“Why does he send them to you?”

“He thinks it’s funny.”

“Then why do you have them up?”
Me on the wall.
I’m agitating from afar. I’m inserting myself in conversations that I shouldn’t be in and I like it. If only I can figure out a way to make my eyes follow the viewer as they move throughout the room. Since he’s calling my bluff I have to step up my game. I obviously need to go much, much bigger. I can only win this when my sister says “no more!” Game on.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I'm Ready For My Close Up

A picture of my face taken in my office, monochromed, and then printed off in various contexts.
Periodically I make printed copies of random images. I print these off in groups of ten or fifteen. Often these are modified analog collages, things that I have scanned myself or been posted online by a fellow mail-artist. If it looks interesting I’ll add it to a folder on my thumb drive and then play around with it later. So often I end up putting them in monochrome and then mixing them with other collages to make a super collage. Sometimes I put them in monochrome and then add tons of clashing colors in Microsoft Paint. Sometimes I print them off on peculiar paper I find at thrift stores, anything that isn’t the standard white. The more color the better. I really like using children’s instruction books to print on. Often these are the same size as a standard piece of paper so they’re easily ran through a regular printer. I also like old paper with stains on them, pieces I find laying around school in hallways or pulled from the trash, and the exotic. Transfer sheets are great and so is carbon copy paper. Odd and out of context are ideal.

If I have a few minutes here and there, I’ll print something out. I’ll then take those copies home and organize them into categories. There’s the add and passes, the random bits I cut up and put into envelopes, and the purely psychotic. While looking through my digital files that I print from and what gets printed off, I notice a pattern. I have a lot of printed images of my head floating out there. It seems that I might have to explore this subject matter at great length.

A few images of my face stuck together with other collages. I then print these off and mail them.
Honestly, I don’t use my face in mail-art because I’m that self-involved. I don’t do it because I think I’m particularly attractive. I’m not really here to promote myself or my artwork since I’m not that ambitious about it. I’ve always made the things I’ve made, and if someone gives a shit, then I’m happy with it. If they don’t care then they throw it away. At best, putting my face into this equation might change how they interact with the object. I can only imagine someone looking at one of these prints off, my face staring right back them, and then they throw it away. Do they chuckle right before it goes into the recycling?

I made an ADD AND PASS out of my face. This one is completely done by Roberto Scala. He lives in Italy.  
Using me as my main model (that is a weird sentence to write) takes away any potential victim. So many of the things I make have a comical tone to them. No one can get but-hurt if I use my face in a context that is silly or satirical. Since I don’t mind being made fun and no problems being put into a social context, then the sky is the limit. It’s nice to be able to control the quality of the image and the pose. At some point in the future I’m going to have a long modeling session with a photographer friend. I’m going to pose in a variety of positions so I have more to work with and it’ll be of better quality.

A bunch of me with a "sexy" message. I made these into "sexy" stickers.
It’s normally just my head that I use. Almost all of the pictures have been taken in my office at work, against my door. I’ll find a few minutes and have an idea for something. I’ll take the picture on my I-phone. I then save the image, monochrome it, and then wait for an opportunity to put it into another context. So often I mail these images of my head printed on to strange people to my friends with absolutely no context. I have no idea what my close friends (I send these sorts of things to about twenty people on a regular basis) think about this. Maybe they expect it? I don’t know what my mail-art friends think about it either, but they’re used to more craziness, so I doubt they think much at all. It makes me laugh so I send it off.

Recently I’ve stepped up the sending of my face to a whole new level. I had a bunch of 16x20 canvas prints made with a crude image of my face, and a word on top. I’m going to paint thrift store frames and hand them out to friends. My goal is to see who will actually keep the image up in their house and where. I’m daring them to put the thing up.
My face, old monochromed collage mixed in, digital letters, hand painted, and stickers glued on a bingo card.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Four X Four Add And Passes

The Front
Back Directions

I find myself awash in Add and Passes. For years I didn’t do them, but I’ve recently relaxed that position and find myself making a lot, and adding to a lot. Some mail-artists hate them. I once was that person that dreaded seeing them show up in the mail. I imagine that my archives from the first few years are filled with un-passed-on (I know that’s bad) Add and Passes.

Part of the reason I wasn’t a big fan is that I’d look at them and have no idea what to add. When I see a blank page I’ve filled with possibilities. I can put something over there or over here. I can add color; I can add an image, or a stamp. When I get piece of paper that’s full of stuff I don’t know what to do. It’s just too much, I feel overwhelmed. I don’t want to completely cover someone else’s work but I want mine to stick out. It doesn’t seem like a proper negotiation. One side note, when they’re filled up they look like “mud.” You know that feeling when you start to put too much on a surface without letting the one before dry…yeah it feels like that. Like Easter egg dyeing. There’s no separation and often the personality of the piece is lost.
Adds From Tiina Kainulainen (Finland) + Bruno Chiarlone (Italy) + Maria Teresa Cazzaro (Italy) + Tiziania Baracchi (Italy)
Adds From Lubouyr Tymkiv (Ukraine) + Dave Araki (USA) + Dan Mouer (USA) + Terri Jones (USA)
Adds From Diane Keys (USA) + Toni Hanner (USA) + Strangroom (USA) + Gerda  Ostereek (Canada)
When I started making Add and Passes I used the whole surface of the piece of paper. [Another side note, I hate that paper sizes around the world (especially from Europe) aren’t the same. When I place finished sheets in my notebooks, at least an inch sticks out of the top of the plastic protective sheet, my thing, not a real gripe…silly, I know.] With an allover Add and Pass you end up getting the “mud” effect. Mail-artists will put stuff all over the sheet since there’s no real direction of where things might go. A guide sometimes is helpful with such thing. If the overall effect of the composition is cleared up a bit, I think the eye rejoices. Too much just looks like too much.

The only Add and Passes I’ve continued to move around (I often put new ones in circulation every couple of months) are the 4 x 4 ones. The idea is that each mail-artist will get one block to fill up and then pass on to the next person. When the four blocks are filled up the directions tell them to mail it back to me. I’ve gotten about twenty of these back and strangely they pretty much follow these rules. A couple folks have filled up all four blocks and signed. I’m fine with that. I like seeing the white space. I’ve always liked controlled chaos more than control or chaos just by themselves.
Mike Dyar (EAT ART) took the 4 x 4 and the Hugo Ball Add and Pass I made and incorporated them into a book on his signature paper.
Recently I’ve started to print these on strangely colored paper or paper I found in recycling to change things up since a lot of people end up getting these over and over again. Part of the problem with Add and Passes is reaching a new audience without too many repeats. Getting too many can be more of an annoyance than joy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Making a Billboard in the Backyard

One of the inspirational signs in High Point NC.
I like dilapidated billboards / signs a lot. This infatuation might come from the amount of them strewn about country roads near where I grew up. Most of the time they’re there to advertise some new detergent or hate spewing preacher. One layer is put on top of the next. Whenever no one rents a billboard for years on end, the layers start to meld into one big creation. Whole sections of the billboard will fall off exposing what’s underneath.  Better than whole sections coming off, little bits will flake off giving the billboard a bit more movement, a bit more drama in the unintended artwork.

For a while I tried to document these as much as I could, mostly taking pictures of billboards near where I grew up. They were always nestled in out of the way places or disused highways. Sometimes they were overgrown with weeds, left to be taken over by the surrounding foliage. It was a nice way to see the gross commercialism of highway driving slowly disappear into something more beautiful.
These are the two tests.

I wondered what it would take to get this effect. I started off with two small canvases I purchased at a local thrift store. Each canvas was 29 cents and seemed to be a from a summer camp that dumped all their unwanted and terrible art. To get the desired effect I put different kinds of tape down first. I wanted things to rip and tear and recede at different speeds. If it all came off at once it would ruin things. After covering the small 5 x 7 canvas with tape, I started layering newspaper that I found around my “making room.” I first grabbed a bunch of Japanese newspapers I bought in Japan. I then glued down another layer from a magazine that I let half dry and then pulled off. Since it was almost dry, the image only lifted off in sections. I repeated this process a few more times after. To keep what I’d done in place I glued all of that down and then filled in the larger white gaps (too temperamental to fill in with ripped paper) with tape, rubber stamps, and other bits of color. I finished two of these “test” canvases.
The stack of stuff I found at the thrift store in Winston-Salem NC.
The goal was to make something much larger, something with the imposing feel of a billboard. At the same place I found the small canvases I found a much larger one for the princely sum of 99 cents. It was priced way too low. The surface of the bigger canvas was filled with brightly colored names on the front of the work and on the sides. Like with the smaller canvases I filled the first layer with tape. I then added a layer of newspaper, and then another and then another and then another. I did four sections of colored constructions paper. I added more newspaper. I left the canvas outside for at least a week. When I went to check on it parts of the paper had started to come up in the corners. I then used the canvas as my work bench for spray-painting a bunch of thrift store frames. While I was painting I was mildly conscious of the shapes I was creating. I moved the frames around. I painted the sides of the canvas and I intentionally mixed the colors. I sat it back up against a tree and left it for another few days. At one point I looked out my bathroom window (I did this on purpose) and saw that it had fallen into the dirt, perfect.
Painted and left out in the woods to "cure."
It looks a little “worked” a little too contrived so it’s going to sit a little while longer. I’m going to add more layers of newspaper and paint. When it reaches a nice point of being properly “cooked” I’m going to do a little ripping, a little tearing, just a little damage. If the weather does all the damage I need, then I’ll leave it be. Once I think it’s all finished up I’ll glue it all down and spray it finished. This could take a while.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Misty and Jon Getting Married Add and Returns Project

I feel like I’m stuck in an add and pass hell. As soon as I finish work on some add and passes, scan them, and then post the images, I end up getting more. Instead of making things of my own I end up spending a lot of time just “adding to” and then moving things along This routine is fairly recent to me. For the first few years I was making mail-art I never really added anything. I’d pass without adding. I could never think of what to add to the composition. One day I just put down some stamps or an image and that was it, I was making them.

About two years ago I started making my own sheets. Most of the add and passes that I’ve started have a place attached to them, either a wall in New Orleans, a billboard in Lexington, or a taco joint in Lexington North Carolina. All of the former were based off pictures that I took and then monochromed. There’s some other sillier ones out there, my favorite being four blank squares and another of my face with the words “fix this face.” I use my visage a lot because I can make fun of myself but I don’t want to do that with other people. It comes off as vain when it’s more self-deprecating.

I’ve also taken to using a lot of colored paper, something I haven’t noticed others using a lot. I especially like printing off my add and passes on notebook paper I find lying around work. I’ll go digging around in the trash to find some especially unique.

After writing all of the above, going deep into the add and pass hell, I decided to start another project. Sometime, in the middle of spring, Misty and I decided that we were going to get married on June 16th. We put everything together in about three months, sort of. In actuality most of the work was completed the week before we got married. I was in charge of the invitations. I handmade 75 of them and I tossed in a bunch of blank Misty and Jon Getting Married Add and Returns into every envelope. I also sent them around the world to my mail-art friends. I put two in each invitation and two for every mail-artist that was interested. Some of them were done on white paper, some on random paper I found and repurposed, (the Osaka phonebook was my favorite) but the majority of them were done on paper given to me by my great aunt. It was a pile of stuff she used for scrapbooking.

The submissions rolled in rather quickly. I scanned every single one of them. Some were turned into three dimensional objects so I had to video them and post them online. Although I was getting annoyed with add and passes I had created another project where I was getting a ton of them. As of now, and I’m sure this number is going to go up, I have about 90 different pieces of Jon and Misty art that have been collected in a large binder in my archives. Actually it’s two different binders.
The video above is all of the single submissions we received.

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 ...