Thursday, September 16, 2021

NPR's Eddie Garcia Made A Record and I Made An Image

 Go buy this record from Winston-Salem North Carolina’s, Eddie Garcia. Eddie has a one-man band that goes by the name 1970’s Film Stock. He’s a wonderfully talented person who’s making great art. He also has a husky NPR voice. The full record comes out on October 8th but you can pre-order it now. Give me a few hundred words and I’ll come back around to the record.

Listen / Order here.

I started collecting records out of necessity. Before the days of streaming, or even peer-sharing services (I hate when people write such things…so boring, so obvious) you had to have a physical thing. There was a hunt to being a music fan. It was work.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked doing the work but it’s much better today. Being able to have so much music within seconds is a good thing, not a bad thing. It wasn’t better then. So, if you had a budding and insatiable appetite for music in the mid-90’s, you did the work. 

Front Cover
Front Cover.
The mid-90’s were a dead time for vinyl records. Most of the majors weren’t putting out records unless you were Pearl Jam and you had a song on your third record fetishizing the black circle. With four or five dollars you could flesh out your collection in no time at a flea market. Sure, the Beatles and Elvis records were overpriced, but everything else was a dollar or less. The week would be for studying magazines and books and VH1 Rock and Roll documentaries, and the flea market weekends would be for looking for those things. I found the inevitable classic rock, but I also found Venom’s Black Metal, Dead Kennedy singles on Cherry Red, and my first jazz records. All of this was just to be able to listen to MORE music outside of 106.5, my CD collection, and whatever I could borrow from friends. I didn’t get my first CD burner until my freshman year of college, which corresponded perfectly with the emergence of Napster.

While I liked records, I never was one of those guys. I wasn’t one of those guys who knew the pressing info of every record I owned but never listened to the music.  The format is not as important as what’s on it. I didn’t care if it was on record or CD I just wanted to listen to it.

If records were better than CD’s, they were better because of the artwork. There was so much more that could be done with a record. A record is an exciting artifact! CD’s are practical but boring. Like everyone I’d spend hours memorizing record covers, thumbing through them, and of course, cleaning the years of basement dust off of them. You can never get rid of that smell. 

Back cover.
Two years ago, Eddie Garcia told me that he wanted to use an image of mine for a record cover. At that time, he wasn’t sure if he was going to press them onto vinyl, make tapes, or offer it up as a download. I was vying for a record because I wanted to see him make his work more present in the world, and I wanted to see something I made on a record cover. I was cheering for him; I was happy for me. Thankfully he chose the vinyl option.

I don’t remember making the image that adorns the front and back cover. I know how I made it. I scanned a painting I did in my yard. I put that image in black monochrome. I added colors and then doubled the base image over and over again. It was simple but the finished product looked pretty good, good enough that I had my friends and local printers (House of Rodan) to print some on 16x20 canvases. Maybe three or of them were printed. Eddie said he wanted one so I stuck it in a frame and dropped it off at his house. Chances are I gave it to him. I have no idea what happened to the others. When I dropped off the blown up print to his house, his wife and in this case layout designer, Alex Klein told me, “I don’t like the colors. I just don’t like primary colors.”

Looking at the image now, I’m not too happy with it either. The colors are fine, but there’s white lines in the damn thing and that annoys me. I imagine the lines appear whenever the layers start to overlap one another. My technical knowledge is very limited, and I prefer crude anyway, so…it came out the way it did. If I could go back and fix anything I’d make sure those white lines would disappear. The layout looks great, the colors pop…it really stands out. Even though I made the image, I think it’s a cool looking record. You put this one on a record store shelf and people will take notice. A million seller right out of the box. 

You see that white line?
 Having my image on a printed record, one that will end up on people’s shelves across the country is kind of a dream come true. Mostly what I make ends up behind an envelope in a pile of other things. A record is dealt with, handled, and looked at. You have to see the thing! You have to interact with the thing!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

You Can't Hurry A Paper Collage

Looking back at the first collages I moved through the Network, I’m not impressed. Those first ones were sloppy and silly, made up mostly of just a few parts. All of them were paper and glue and maybe a little marker or paint. Those early collages weren’t good, but I needed a starting point. It took an accident for me to discover tape transfers, which became an infatuation for me. I like making tape based collages. More importantly, I thought there was something there, something worth pursing over and over again. It took three years and a lot of playing with tape before I made something I liked.  

Finally, paper collages that I thought were acceptable. These three were sent as mail-art postcards.

One thing that eluded me were decently made paper collages. Once I started messing with tape, I mostly avoided straight paper collages. I mean I dabbled in paper collages, but I never made anything I thought was particularly good. Essentially, I made re-captioned pictures in the spirt of the meme. They were always funny or surreal or a little bit of both, but nothing close to a fully realized collage.

This summer I spent a lot of time upstairs working on things. Most days I put in three or four hours logging what I had received, ripping paper for transfers, pre-making envelopes, writing responses to folks, putting picture print offs into thrift store frames for those little libraries, and gluing things together. I can always go upstairs and find something to work on for hours at a time. There’s always something to do.

Part of my mail-art process is going to thrift stores, it’s what happens before I work on things upstairs. There’s a lot of steps to making stuff that doesn’t actually involve the physical putting together of items. You have to think about those items and you have to buy those items before you can create something new. Thrift stores are where I get the vast majority of my materials, and strangely, my inspiration. You walk around and think about new creations. Thrift stores are where I like to brainstorm.

I was walking around one such place in Lexington North Carolina. It’s a Habitat for Humanity store, not always the best place for what I’m looking for. It doesn’t help that the staff is mildly unfriendly and you have to endure tons of contemporary Christian music. What I like most about the store is that there’s an upstairs that runs the parameter of the shop. The middle is open, allowing you to look down on the first floor shoppers. The feel of the place causes me to come back as much as what they sell. Anything feels better than the super-practical layout of a Goodwill. Books are two dollars a bag and sometimes there’s parts and pieces for next to nothing, sometimes…not all the time. Frames are often at a good price too.

Anyway, I went through the books and saw an older lady looking at a large pile of records. A Supremes’ record was sticking out from the top of her pile as she thumbed through them on a dingy couch. Nothing to get too excited about, those records are almost universally trashed, both because people listened to them and because they didn’t come with a paper sleeve. If 99% of all thrift store records (I believe this figure to be true) contain terrible music, then 99% of that 1% is trashed, completely unplayable. I walked over to the boxes of records not expecting much. Looking at thrift store records is more of an obligation than a joy. I quickly pulled out a pile of mid-1960’s titles, all originals. Every record was completely trashed. I ended up buying five or six anyway, just because I liked the covers. I would have preferred them to be in good shape so I could listen to them. At 50 cents each, I could make unique postcards out of them without much fuss. I bought a couple Supremes records, a Dixie Cups record, and the Kingsmen. The lady on the couch had a massive pile as I walked away.

Much like stumbling across the tape transfer method many years ago, I stumbled across making relatively satisfying paper collages. The records were quickly discarded and the covers cut into pieces after salvaging big chucks for postcards. They sat beside a large roll of industrial sticky paper I bought at The Scrap Exchange a couple months before. When I purchased the sticky paper the clerk asked me what I was going to do with it. At that time, I didn’t have a clue. It was like two dollars for the roll, why not? I ended up laying out one of the pieces of sticky paper on my work table. I’d then take the strips of record cover and push them together on the sticky paper creating a foot-long collage. From there I cut circles into the strips over and over, replacing them with circles from other parts of the foot-long collage. Over time these foot-long strips created a pile on my desk, which I made for no particular reason.

I then cut up the foot-long strips into smaller strips. I mixed those new strips up and then stuck them to a different piece of sticky paper. I did this over and over again. I cut more circles out of the new strips. I did this over and over again. Over time I started to see something entrancing produced from this process. I felt like I was making a quilt of tiny bits of fifty-year-old cardboard.

What I ended up with worked well for postcards, most of which had a similar look once they were cut to fit in an envelope. I scanned the ones I thought were most interesting, the ones where you could see a face pop up in the composition…maybe a word hidden somewhere. Some of them I put into frames. Some of them ended up looking like “collage sculptures.” These sculptures had a shape that wasn’t the usual square or rectangle.

Paper collages wrapped in thrift store frames.

To me, I liked the ones I glued to painted board frames. They were a collaboration between me and my dad who made the frames for me. He made about ten or twelve in various sizes. I spray-painted them and then cut the collages into the shape that best fit the boards. The leftover pieces went into the next collage. The board framed collages I put into my save pile upstairs. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them but they’re in a plastic bin in a small room that is quickly filling up with stuff. The ones I put in frames I gave out to a few folks. Whatever is leftover will end up in little libraries around the area.

May dad made the boards, I made the collages.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

No Laughing in the Little Library

I make too much stuff.

I have blocks of “making time” scheduled throughout the week. I have blocks of making time at work, upstairs in the main making space, and painting outside. Through the week, I’m continually shuffling things from one of these three spaces. If there’s time available, I like to work on something. There’s never an issue of inspiration with what I make, I simply inhabit one of these spaces and start chipping away at things. If the mind is slightly blank, I can put addresses on envelopes, rip up images from magazines, or do the massive amount of clerical work that goes with mail-art. There’s always something to do and I try and do it as much as humanly possible…all the time.

This has led to something of a problem. I make too much stuff. The collages are easy to get rid of, I just put those in envelopes and send them to folks. Sometimes I send to mail-art shows just to keep from burdening my correspondents. In moments of intense creativity, I mail collages in large envelopes with a lot of broadsides and random garbage included. Doing that sort of thing clears up a lot of space.

Thrift stores haven’t helped with this problem. Thrift stores have fueled my picture frame purchases simply because they’re there, and they’re cheap. I have tons upstairs that I put collages, broadsides, and Frankenstein like creations in. Normally I save these for unwanted home deliveries in the Winston area, but friends can only take so much. They don’t want this stuff and I can’t afford to mail all of it out, so it collects in piles. Side note: people love to tell me I should sell my things, but they never follow up with how, let alone buy something from me.

It never occurred to me to start putting items in those Little Libraries around town. You know the ones, small mailbox like structures in front of houses where people dump unwanted manuals for a computer that broke years ago…. yeah, those. Never thought of it, not even once. I drive by quite a few of them while going around town, they’re pretty much everywhere, and it never occurred to me.

The first round of things I delivered were mostly printed images of my face. (This past week I started putting collage packets in there too). These were, reduced in size broadsides that I’d cut up and fit into tiny frames, some of them less than three inches tall. Frames from the Mission on Trade Street is less than a price of a stamp. I first dropped off a big batch of things on the west side of town, simply because of the ease of getting out of my car. I could pull over on the side of the road and not get hit. The next week I came back and everything I put in there was gone. I printed a list of other little libraries and started putting things in five or six different ones. Whenever I’d go back the next week, everything would be gone. A whim had turned into another ridiculous obligation.

At first I thought people were taking them out of the boxes, and tossing them in the trash. “This isn’t

supposed to be here!” I’d imagine them saying. This fear came exclusively from reading the neighborhood Facebook group. The amount of people on there that do not care for joy outnumber the ones that do. Take my image out and use the frames, I don’t care. If anything it’s a frame donation. A couple weeks ago someone posted specifically about the libraries on the neighborhood page. It seems that someone in a black pickup truck was going around the neighborhood cleaning out the libraries. Many, often pissed off people, were pissed. Everyone had an opinion about the little library thief, but no one mentioned my pictures. I kind of wanted them to mention my pictures. While it’s nice to get rid of stuff, the main thrill is imagining what someone else will make of the gesture. I’d love to see video of someone opening up one of those little doors, and seeing an image of my face looking back at them in a tiny frame? If I get a chuckle, just one chuckle, it would be worth it. Of course I’ll never know if I get that chuckle…that’s the joy of the anonymous gift.

As soon as someone mentions my pictures I’ll have to stop, what fun will it be then?