Friday, September 25, 2015

On Meeting Richard Canard (written October 23rd 2012)

Within a week of signing up for the IUOMA I received a few pieces from folks all over the world. I’m not even sure if I posted a “send me stuff” type of request before things started showing up to my house. Considering who I am, I felt like I needed to keep up with those who were sending me things, so I responded as quickly as I could. Those first few weeks pretty much laid the groundwork for my involvement in the mail-art community. I love sending things. I love receiving things.
One of those first few people was a guy in the Midwest. I quickly responded with my own work. For a few weeks we had a back and forth, maybe a few days between responses, but not much more than that. Out of the blue he stopped sending things. Since I was new to this mail-art thing, I thought something had happened. Maybe I had angered the somewhat anonymous and cryptic mail art sending person on the other end. It just dried up. It made things a little worse to see things by him show up in blog posts elsewhere. I was kind of jealous, especially as I sent out more and more things without response. This was the first in a long line of “I’m going to quit doing this, since no one mails me anything” blow ups. Although I realize now, people come and go, mail at their own pace, or just never respond, it still annoys me. I’m used to sending without ever hearing from anyone. Maybe one in five people respond with something in kind and that’s fine. I’ve learned to move on to the next project.
Then he popped up again. Out of nowhere he started to send me messages again in a familiar handwriting-almost always handwriting on a recycled / repurposed bit of cardboard. As soon as you saw something come in the mail you knew it was from him. Often there were dashes above or below the handwriting that should come with “cut here” instructions. It’s obvious that his style is one honed over years and years of mailing things. Everything that he makes is simple, perfectly placed, and stylized.
One of the strange things I noticed about his mailings, were the amount of repurposed letters and what not that came from this area. I think one of the letters was from a doctor or lawyer’s office in High Point. Considering the volume of stuff that he sent, I simply figured that he had things stashed away here and there, and would pull them out in the perfect situation. When he started mentioning people that he knew in the area and my lovely employer specifically in his mail, I figured he had a closer connection than what I initially thought.
When I received a new card from him last week with a return address of Thomasville, and a message mentioning a meeting, I was thrilled. In his usual looping hand, this time writing in what looked like finger nail polish; he had written something about “the meeting of mail-artists” and attached an email and a phone number. Considering the guy doesn’t have an official profile on IUOMA, just pops up from time to time, my excitement was heightened. It was like an enigma; a semi-hidden pen pal had popped out from the darkness and was willing to talk.
I gave it a day and dialed him up. No one answered. It seemed perfect that the voice on the voicemail was that of a woman and the last name wasn’t the same as the mail-art alias. It all…made sense, or at least it seemed to make sense. I wasn’t surprised if the person behind all of this work was a woman with a male alias, or pen name, or whatever. I kind of hoped that it was a woman just to make things even more suspenseful and convoluted.
I called back a couple days later and heard a male voice on the line. The person behind all of the art and mystery was affable and interested in things going on in my life. It was a person after all! The two of us when through a few possible meet up scenarios but decided to leave the scheduling to later. Before I hung up, I found a bit of the puzzle; he’s originally from Thomasville North Carolina, less than ten minutes from where I grew up. Knowing this little fact felt like a gift, like a missing puzzle piece had been found under the couch.
I consulted my calendar and figured Saturday would work. I texted and received nothing back.
My second call hit the mark. This time we agreed on a time to meet, made small talk about the Dominican project I told him about previously, and then hung. It was short and sweet. I thought for a while about what this person would look like, how they would appear in real time instead of through the mail.
I was excited about the meeting, because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I thought I may be hit with a performance piece of sorts, or get stiffed. I picked up a coffee and went to a corner table at the shop. Since I had no idea what the man looked like, I was looking at every person with mild suspicion. At first I thought the guy in the corner was my guy, so I sat there, and stared at him just ever so slightly…trying to coax him out. The only real evidence that made me think this could be my guy was an assumed age, an approximation. In other words, I had really shitty evidence or next to no evidence to help me. I sat staring at the guy across from me for around five minutes. Either he was the guy, or he was going to come over and hit me in the mouth, so I stopped and just waited. Two minutes later an unassuming man strolls up, says “hello” sits down.
For the next hour the two of us talked about mail-art, and our various projects. We spent a lot of time discussing what brought us to mail-art or sending things through the mail. In both our cases we have an aunt that introduced us to such correspondence, and then Ray Johnson (the other link) put it into play for us. He found out about Johnson through an article his aunt sent him, and me from the great How to Draw a Bunny documentary. So he just mailed him, and then he was hooked or pulled in, whatever way you’d like to put it. Being the twenty-first century kid that I am, I simply googled mail-art and then was funneled to the website that I’m now addicted to, IUOMA. I’m sure there’s something to be said about this, me finding out about a somewhat impractical and hyper analog art form through google, but I’m not smart enough to figure out the specifics. Instead of me doing the groundwork, I’ll let someone getting their master’s degree in “fine art” figure out the angles while I try to understand the man across from me just a little better.
What I was most impressed by my meeting was how much he was interested in me, when I was really there to find out about him. I didn’t think I had anything exciting to tell him about the silly things I create. I wanted to learn from this mail art veteran…maybe he would give me the secret to it all, or at least share part of a secret. Instead of talking to me, he talked with me and asked direct and deep questions about a host of things from what I thought about art, to the students I teach. This was no lopsided conversation; it was a real conversation.
Thankfully he was affable and encouraging. It could not have been a better meeting, especially considering how excited about mail-art I’ve become in the past few years. Having someone to talk to me who’s been around, and done great work, was inspirational, even though he never took the position of elder statesman who knows more than me, even if I kind of wanted him to.
Unfortunately I had to run, and wasn’t able to have lunch with him. Right before the conversation completely wound down, he slipped an envelope across the table. It was a simple white envelope with my name on the front. Inside he had a small article xeroxed about Ray Johnson. He also given me an authentic fake Ray Johnson collage, an original forgery signed Ray Johnson and dated 2011. It was a perfect!
I went home and worked on mail-art for the next three hours, completely inspired and excited about creating.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Went to Richard Canard's Storage Unit and Took Things Home

Out of the blue, I get an email from someone I didn’t know. This doesn’t happen anymore, I can’t think of the last time I gave out my email address. It was a pleasant surprise. The email read.
“I am writing on the request of my brother Richard C.[real name redacted] (e.g. Richard C.) to see if you have any interest in his MANY Art magazines that are currently in storage in Thomasville, NC. We are in Thomasville this week (Sept. 20-26) staying with a relative and he is going through a storage unit to throw away items. If you have any interest in viewing some art magazines and/or books, then send an email to either…”
In Richard fashion, in the name of creative correspondence, the man has his sister to send the email on his behalf, a woman I have never met in my life. And this is why people love his work, he’s always thinking of ways to play with communication either through mail art, or a simple message.
Richard was one of the first people that sent me mail art some years ago. If I’m not mistaking, I think he was the third person to send me something after I signed up for IUOMA. The two of us went back and forth for a couple of years, before I realized that he was from NC. Much like the email above, he sent me a card asking if I wanted to meet him some place when he was in town. The two of us met up at Krankie’s about three years ago. He was kind and generous, more interested in me than I could have ever imagined. It was a great meeting, here was my mail-art guide right in front me, a guide that has location in common with me.
So yeah, of course I’m going. I almost immediately responded to the email and eagerly awaited her response. Nervous that this opportunity would go away, I sent an email to the address I thought was Richard’s. In an hour he responded with directions to the storage unit. Here is his message.
“Yes we can meet Tues around 3:30 at the Storage unit which is located on Carolina Ave. just off Jackson St. This is near the train underpass. If you need to call them use this cell phone.”
I honestly have no idea what to expect? I’m always looking for materials to make into other things. More importantly, it will be nice to see Richard again, catch up, and see what he’s doing. He’s unique personality comes out clearly in his correspondence, even if you learn little about his personal life. So yeah, I’m going, maybe in one of those boxes I’ll find a nice little treat?
I get to the storage unit right on time. I park right by the gate so I know there wasn’t a chance someone would miss me. I waited ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then at the forty minute mark I decided to leave. Before I left I sent a message to both Richard and his sister and insisting on another time to meet up. In the back of my head I knew that I had done something wrong. Since my last class of the day started at 6pm I was a little crunched for time. Before a quick bite to eat, I stopped at a thrift store to look at their junk. His sister called me, saying that there was another entrance and yes, it was my own stupidity. If I would have looked closer at her directions, I would have noticed the description of another entrance. I told her I would “be there in less than a second.”
She was right, “I couldn’t miss them,” if I had gone to the right spot in the first place. Both of them were directly in front of the back entrance. Richard lets me in, I park the car, and then walk up to them. Off to the side was a large stack of boxes I could see filled with magazines and books. They made an effort to stack those just for me. I talked with his sister for a little while about Thomasville and the school system (she was a teacher for a long while in Illinois) in both of our states.
Richard stacked in six or seven boxes of art magazines into the back of my car. We gossiped about the Tucker project and he even asked how it all started. Like I remember from our first meeting, he was full of questions and painstakingly interested in my responses. Although he is my “mail art mentor” he didn’t take that angle with me.
More than once he mentioned how my “enthusiasm had energized” a lot of people to create and learn about mail-art. This was a great compliment to me. Considering that he was one of the first people I sent mail-art to, he saw my first forays (which were terrible) into the whole thing. In other words, I went from someone mailing awful things from North Carolina to someone that would create and help curate a show about mail-art. I’m in the deep in. I’m not stopping. His encouragement is invaluable to me. I can’t believe he even thought of me when he was trying to free up some things in the first place.
Unfortunately all three of us had things we had to go to. I had to go back to work and they were doing work. I’m not sure if they had to clear out the whole storage unit or not, but if they did they were going to be there for some time. I told Richard to get in touch the next time he was in town, “maybe we’d get a coffee or something” and then I had to leave. I wish there was more time. He let me out of the gate and I said to him and almost embarrassingly, “See you in the mail.” I’ve already drafted a thank you letter to him.
When I got back to work I went through a few of the boxes quickly. I flipped through the old random books about literature and lists as well as the art magazines from the 80’s and 90’s. Some of them were from the 1970’s. Lots of Art Forums, Art Digest, Art Something or Other, perfect for making other things. If I were to be honest, I was looking for a little treasure in there somewhere, some mail-art gem. One small box was filled with rocks, pieces of metal, and two light bulbs he had written all over and signed. One was a drawn skull. I’ll be keeping both of these. The rocks and whatnot will be distributed to other mail-art folks under the title “Things from Richard Canard’s Storage Unit.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

All Praise Carina Granlund (Petsmo Finland)

Carina Granlund is a treasure. Her work is some of the most amazing and inspiration mail-art I receive. Every little thing looks perfectly place. The colors balance each other. The envelopes look great…everything she sends is perfect. I look forward to getting her work in my mailbox as often as I can. It’s a wonderful thing about mail-art, you can exchange art with your favorite artists. Carina is definitely one of those people. Here’s the most recent card she me.

Toda-ji Temple Buddha Collages

I went to one of my favorite thrift stores in Winston-Salem, the Salvation Army in front of Parkland high school. It...