Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Famous French Photographer Took Pictures of Me in the "Makings Room"

Look at all of that garbage on the walls.
I got a random email from a photographer, Gill Rivard. Gill said he was a “relatively famous photographer based in France” and was spending some time in the US. In the email, Gill basically outlined a long road trip. On the road trip, he was trying to get some work done. When I asked why me (this took a couple of emails) he told me about a friend in France. This friend, someone I’ve sent mail-art to for years, had shown him some of my work. “I looked down on a table one visit” Gill said “and there was a pile of mail. One of the envelopes came from you.” The mail-artist even passed along my blog address where I shared pictures of my workspace. Gill is interested in workspaces, if you’re fancy and French, my atelier. The emails were timed perfectly since his road trip was coming up through Georgia and into North Carolina, as he and his travel companion Rose, made it back to New York.

I didn’t spend too much time on giving him a “yes.” Normally I say yes to most things people ask of me, especially if I’ve never done them before. Might as well try. Why not say yes to making something for a book, doing a record cover, or having a small art show at a movie theater? If things don’t work out at least I can get a story out of it. 

Smoldering intensity.
Gil and Rose showed up right on time. They hung out it in my kitchen as I poured them both a cup of coffee. Rose didn’t say all that much. We mostly figured out a plan for our shoot. He showed me some of the other places he’d shot over the course of his month long trip, I was impressed. He told me the name of one artist after the other, none of which I knew. Unless they’re mail-art people, I’m not going to know them. The big idea was to spend most of our time upstairs in my actual workspace. Somehow he had missed the basement garage where I also make things. “I want to get that too” he said.

The two of us wondered upstairs. At the top of the stairs he marveled at the thrift store paintings on the wall. He asked a few questions about where I got this one or that one. He focused on a couple paintings I had of women sitting in chairs form the 1960’s. “These are beautiful” he said. ‘We can get some pictures in here, too.”

It was only a few minutes in my main space (I really need a name for it) before he took out his camera and started shooting. He gave me a few directions but mostly I posed in front of my desk. I also did some “fake work” at my desk. He’d stop taking pictures for a second and then look at stuff on the walls. In five minutes his tone started to change.  He was a lot more direct, a lot more serious. At first, I couldn’t tell what was going on, but I soon started to understand. “I want you to take your shirt off and stand in front of your desk” he told me. “You want me to do what” I asked? “Shirt…off!” At “shirt off” is where the photo shoot ends. Didn’t want to get wrapped up in that. No one was going to look at those pictures except for Gill, no one!

I started scooting him towards the door, down the steps, and into the living room. There I told Rose they were leaving. Rose didn’t look surprised. It seems they might have been performing the whole shirt off bit throughout the lower half of the United States. At least he sent me the pictures of the shoot. 

These are fake makings.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

T-Shirts With My Face On Them.

 I like t-shirts. I like t-shirts a lot. Obviously I’ve made t-shirts with myself as the main focus. I’ve done this twice. Michael M. and I made some Nostrils shirts year ago. He screen-printed them in his kitchen. I also had a design that read “I Learned Nothing From Jon Foster.” It came from a real student evaluation. Those looked really good, multiple colors and printed by Jon and James. I sold around 20 of those at cost. The problem with getting them done professionally is the time and cost. I never want to make money on these sorts of things, but I don’t want to lose a lot of money. Anticipating what folks want or what size they need isn’t in the equation. Clearly people need t-shirts with my face on them.

I was sitting on my couch when it hit me, “I can use fabric ink with rubber stamps and make all the shirts I want.” I put the word out there that I was looking for someone to carve rubber stamps for me. I needed others to do it since that whole process looks super difficult to me. Maybe I’ll try my hand at carving in the future, but until then, let the professionals do it. People need to see every dip and valley in my face, I owe it to them. Valerie P. took the bait. I bought her a few blocks and in less than a week she’d carved three amazing images for me. I don’t know how she did them so fast. More importantly, I was impressed by her talent. I loved them.

Projects that feed my thrift store addiction tend to grow. Having a real reason to go to a thrift store and pick out stuff is a dream. With the rubber stamps, I needed t-shirts to complete my project. I had to go through every shirt in the rack. In just a couple visits I nabbed a big stack at only two dollars apiece. I bought ones that we’re blank and I bought ones that had stuff already on them. The idea of a “collaged t-shirt” was rather exciting to me. You know, use the pre-existing information to make something new.

The first round looked awful. I didn’t know how to regulate the amount of ink so they ended up looking like I had finger-painted them. Even worse, most of the ink washed off when I put them I the washing machine the next day. The information on the can of ink said they only needed one day to dry…that was a lie. Out of those first six I only salvaged one. 

The first round...not so good.
The second round I did simple research on. You know research…looking at things on the internet. I watched almost three whole videos on the subject. They said I should let them dry for about a week, but I didn’t need to “heat-set” them. I did both. I pressed out my designs in the basement and then laid them on tables. After I did the whole pile, I held the hair-dryer over every design for a cumulative amount of three minutes. They didn’t look bad. They looked simple, they looked punk which is what I was going for. I wanted them to look like a CrimethInk band shirt from the 90’s. You know, like a design someone in Zegota would have come up with after dumpster diving all night long. Simple, effective, and most importantly, cheap.

Giving away the shirts wasn’t as easy as I thought. I put it out there and only a few folks raised their hand. Whenever people are trying to avoid saying they’re not interested in something on social media, you get less and less “likes.” It’s like when you ask a question to a classroom and all of the students look at their desks. No biggie, I’ll get rid of them over time. I mostly made smaller sizes because I thought that’s what people would need. I didn’t realize that my people were as fleshy as I am. I should have bought more larges and x-larges instead of mediums and smalls.

For most of the week, while the second round was drying in the basement, I was thinking about how to improve them. The second round was acceptable, but too simple. The more I thought about them the more I hated them. They were too boring, not worth giving to people. I decided to redo the whole second round. At first I thought I could use a stencil to roll on the ink but this didn’t work because the roller never touched the shirt. A paintbrush worked. I dabbed as much silkscreen ink inside the stencil as I could, giving a darker layer of ink than the rubber stamps could. The shirts that came out the best were the ones that had preexisting words and designs on them. In effect, I was making collages with t-shirts. The process went so quickly that I ran out of room in the basement. I might have squeezed in another table in there but I wouldn’t have had any place to walk. I’ve got about ten shirts I think are worthy of giving away to people. This week I need to buy bigger shirts, wash them, and then lay down some ink on Saturday. The only thing I don’t like about this process is having to wait for them to dry. I can only do so many at one time. 

The third round might work.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

I Went For Stamps and Met an Anteater!

 Out of the blue Sam, Y. contacted me about some paper. He wrote in a Facebook message, “I got a large stamp collection I inherited several years ago, both foreign and domestic stamps.  Let me know if you might be interested.” Yes, I was interested. This seems to happen whenever people can’t figure out what to do stuff piling up in their houses. I always welcome such things, especially if they’re getting rid of old and weird stuff. The older and the weirder the better. Sometimes I get giant boxes of mildew infested paper, and sometimes it’s a small manila envelope with few handwritten notes in there. I love them all. In the back and forth a plan was set for me to go to his work and pick up the items. Sam works in Greensboro at the Science Center, a place I’d never been to. Think of it like a small zoo. Sam works in the hospital. If a fish gets a cold he’s the guy that’s in charge of giving them cough drops. 

So many stamps. Why does Poland have so many?

Envelopes and first day of issues.

When I got there I was blown away by the amount of “zoo stuff” about. It was a spectacular place, only a couple miles from my usual Greensboro stops. I called Sam and he talked me to his location, one road away from the main entrance. I had to get out and take a chain off the fence, push the fence open, and then put it back. It all felt wrong but intriguing. It felt like I was on an adventure. Maybe I’d get mauled by a creature? My guy was waiting for me at another fence. I went through and made it into another layer of the compound. Before I got out of the car I noticed flamingos only twenty yards in front of me. It’s hard to miss long-necked pink bids.

For the next hour I got a private tour of the grounds. First he showed me the hospital where he spends most of his time. He showed me the operating rooms and where folks were cutting up vegetables for the creatures. I looked in a tub and saw a sick alligator in it and got hissed at by somewhat large African kitty-cat. I asked a lot of questions and he answered them all. Did you know that flamingos have to have a certain dye given to them to ensure they stay pink? If they don’t have the dye they turn white. He showed me the hippo and the tiger and the gibbons, which he said were relatively easy to work with. Gibbons seem annoying to me. The last thing he showed me were the Maine wolves who inhabited the same space as the giant anteater. The two of us spent the most time talking about the anteater, who he thought was one of the most dangerous creatures there. “See those arms, if he came up to you and gave you a hug, he could disembowel you.” I figured the tiger would be more of a disemboweling type creature, not a large anteater that looked like one of god’s mistakes.

An hour into our tour and he was needed back at the hospital. We strolled past the red pandas that I asked to hold earlier in our conversation. No dice! One day I’ll hold one. I’d settle for a monkey, even one of the lesser kind…you know, the distant cousins known for fecal infatuation.

I took out the giant plastic tubs of stamps from his car. We talked quickly about the New York Stories movies currently running on The Criterion Channel, and I was out. I thanked him for the paper and for his time. At the top of the hill I unhooked the fence and made my way back onto Lawndale Drive. I was driving and thinking about the creatures. I’d came out to get a bunch old paper but ended up having the best afternoon I’ve had in months. Thanks Sam!

The plastic bins were huge, and heavy. If only paper were lighter my whole life would much easier. So much of my time is spent moving paper from one location to the next. I wasn’t sure what I had until I took it all upstairs and started to unpack it. It was clear that I was given someone’s collection of mail ephemera. It was a meticulously organized collection. As I unpacked things I could only imagine what the initial collector would think of what I was doing. Would they appreciate their collection going to a home that was going to tear them up and move them around the world? 

Oh the graphics.

You can almost smell this paper from the image.
The most reoccurring name on many of the envelopes was M.J. Stevenson of University Parkway in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There was also an address on Summit St. in that cool looking brick apartment building, Apt. 12. Another address was from a location that is no longer there. That big church on Miller St. must have taken it out. Thank you M.J. for your hard work. 

From a Peruvian hotel.
There were a lot of first day of issue stamps, some of which dated back to 1945. I don’t know anything about collecting stamps. I like stamps, I use them in my mail art, but for me stamps are the automobile that moves mail-art. Outside of a practical application of stamps, I’m interested in the design, but little else. In addition to first day of issue stamps, I found thousands of cancelled loose stamps…thousands. Many of them were organized into their own small envelope that was bursting at the seams. There were two full boxes of stamps from all over the world, enough that I had to get my own, much bigger box to hold them. While going through piles I sat a few aside. I especially liked the ones from Liberia that featured men in traditional dress in front of a washed out color background. Five different countries had cat stamps commemorating multiple breads. The ones from Qatar made all of the cats look dignified liked the dusty men on Spanish stamps. Most interestingly were the different types of stamps from Eastern Bloc countries. Poland and Hungary had so many editions I wondered if Lenin had been a collector in his youth.

Honestly, I was looking for un-cancelled stamps, ones that I could use in my own work. I found six or seven sheets from the 1990’s but not a giant store of them. When I dug deeper I found books that had individual and un-cancelled stamps in them. These I had to work at. Each stamp was wrapped in plastic and taped to a piece of printed cardstock. I ripped the stamps from the book and then took off the plastic. This last part took at least two or three hours but it was well worth it. I might have gotten $100.00 of un-cancelled stamps from both plastic bins. 

Young Elvis, not Vegas bloated Elvis un-cancelled stamps.
 In addition to stamps, I found a lot of envelopes addressed to M.J. These were dated from the 1940’s until the 1980’s. Most of them were just the envelopes from places all over the world, the personal letters removed. I got the feeling that M.J. had a lot of pin-pals simply because of the volume and variety of locations. I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking for names of famous mail-artists, it’s an impulse. A civilian obsessed with mail and a mail-artist can sometimes overlap. There were some postcards, envelopes from businesses in Winston-Salem that no longer exist, and presidential envelopes. One envelope was from Reagan before he was president and the other from Ford when he was president…I think. I’m not googling Gerald Ford. 


The most intriguing bits were the few personal letters. I read a couple of postcards coming from Lexington North Carolina. I’m sure if I made the effort I could identify the family with just a few questions to my parents. The cards were from the 1940’s, well before the zip code was instituted. Mr. Zip was just a thought in a designer’s mind.

The un-cancelled stamps will be put on new envelopes and moved around the world. It’ll take me forever to use all of them because there’s no way in hell I’m licking those things. The cancelled ones will end up in my own work or sent as is. The first day of issues I’ll try and pass onto someone who collects them. I have no use for them and I’d feel bad tearing them up even though they don’t command much of a price. Everything else will end up being scanned, cut up, given away, or repurposed in some fashion. On the first day I sliced up half a dozen envelopes in a few minutes. I worried about this last part when I met up with Sam. I wanted him to know that the collection would go through a lot of changes after I played around with it. He was fine with it. I hope M.J. is fine with it. 

SAM Y. added later, after seeing the above...

 Hey, this is great Jon and I know Mary Jane would be happy to see these stamps finding new life. She was a cool gal. She used to walk over and visit my grandparents (their lots were adjoining). She always wore her gardening clogs (these predated crocs, but perhaps the inspiration, I believe they were chartreuse). Her and my grandfolks shared several gardening plots. After she died her kids asked me if i would like the stamps. Those sheets of unmarked stamps from the 1990's (Elvis, dinosaurs,, can't remember the rest) were actually ones I collected.