The “Back To Our Roots” art show opened Friday, February 21 and is on display until March 20. I am in this show along with 21 other artists who are students in nine different departments at Webster University. The exhibit is in the Contemporary Art Projects Gallery in Arcade building in downtown St. Louis.
From the upper right clockwise, my pieces are named “Correspondence That Could Have Been, I – IV”. Here is a statement from me about what these works are about.
“A dear friend of mine, Mark Reed, who I used to collaborate with creatively died in 2018. Over the years, we discussed, traded, and collaborated on art. Some of our collaborations became realized, some were unfinished, some were just talked about. We both used to enjoy the art format Faux Postage, also known as Artistamps or Artist Postage Stamps. This is an art form derived from Dadaism and Mail Art in which artists make up their own imaginary postage stamps to comment on the human condition through the concepts of correspondence and networking. It’s a playful format we both enjoyed in and out of active participation in the Mail Art community. For Back to Our Roots I’ve made four Faux Postage designs based on some unfinished stamp designs of Mark’s which used elements of some of my designs, for which he obtained my permission to use about 22 years ago. I have made one design with the price of postage at that time, one with today’s postage rate and a couple of values in-between. This is to symbolize that whether we were actively collaborating or not, during all the time I knew him his influence on my work was felt, and his influence will continue to be felt and warmly remembered by me as long as I am alive, in art and in life.”
The emotions and ideas in these pieces are intense and not entirely processed. The three art journals displayed below are works in progress that I use as creative expression and self-care to help me digest all kinds of things about life, both good and bad. Visitors to the show are welcome to page through them.
I have been working on a mini web site to go along with these journals to explain what is behind selected pages in these journals. It’s crudely formatted for mobile viewing so that visitors to the show can scan a QR code and read my commentary. It is readable on a desktop web browser too, though formatted in a bit of an eccentric manner there since I rushed it to get it ready for the show. Like the journals, it’s in progress and might be in progress for some time, who knows what the future will bring. I’m surprised at how much I have to say and how much is pouring out of me. To see what I have published so far, see the link below.
The gallery was broken into, vandalized and some of the artwork vandalized. The artists whose work was affected have been notified so they can make repairs. They expect to have the show up and running again by the end of the week.
Today the St. Louis area is experiencing a sleet and snow mixture. In a week or so, it will be time to start some seeds indoors for the earliest garden plants such as onions and chives. See the Schnarr’s Hardware calendar that includes suggested seed starting, planting times and harvest times for the St. Louis area. That means it’s not too early to plan your garden for 2020! I’ve been practicing landscape plan drawing as I work on my garden plan. More examples and more details are on the Schnarr’s blog!
2. With some light colored markers or colored pencils, color around the outside edge of the faux stamp sheet and inside some of the open areas inside the stamps.
3. If you own any rubber stamps with postal type words or sayings on them, get them out and stamp them on some white or light colored paper to make parts to collage onto your stamp designs.
4. Tear or cut the words out and glue one onto each rectangle.
5. Take some border stamps and stamp them in black ink around the composition to make a border. I used some fairly bold stamps because the black rectangles in the original printout are pretty bold and dark so a strong border will help balance the whole composition.
6. Add some color with other rubber stamps from your collection. I’m currently working on Christmas cards and party invitations so I used some rubber stamps that would fit into use on those kinds of items – either on the actual card or on the envelope.
7. When I make a stamp sheet like this that is designed to be viewed as a whole composition as well as single stamps, I take the original and get color copies made of it. Then I cut out individual stamps from the color copies to use on other projects and keep the original to display intact.
My husband Tom and I were looking for an art show to go to on a Saturday evening after 5:00 pm mass and were pleased to see an ad for the show “Thank You” at Galeria Obscura by mixed media artist Marley Billie D. The theme of the show really resonated with me because an old friend of mine had died a few days earlier, and I had recently submitted a proposal for an art show that involved a tribute to another friend that passed away last year and both deceased friends and others were heavily on my mind. Appreciating the impact people had on your life when they are gone is a good thing, appreciating people while they are still here if you can is even better. I need reminders to do that more. Seeing a collage invitation for the show excited me. Collage and mixed media are near and dear to my heart (and one of my major muses) because of the way that actual found objects and papers can give another dimension to projects that brand new materials just can’t do sometimes.
I spoke to Marley briefly at the opening and expressed my appreciation for the collage, found objects and re-purposed materials used in the show. While some of the pieces in the show are actual collages or include some collage elements, each wall in the installation was itself a masterful assemblage that together created a kind of collage room. You could also think of it as a scrapbook that you can walk into. Artwork was combined with snapshots, many with captions written either on them or on the wall. The walls became a “journaling space” like you would see in a scrapbook or art journal. The black walls of the gallery space, some light gray painted frames at regular intervals, white text and “Polaroid” style photo margins in the exhibit were perfect neutral foils for the highly saturated colors in the artworks themselves. While viewing I soon realized the skill and design ability it takes to create an installation of joyful harmony when there is so much going on with colors, materials and textures.
Marley told me that Pop Art is one of her influences. I learned on the Oxygen web site that Marley Billie D was on a show called “Street Art Throwdown”. You could consider Street Art in the Pop Art category because it’s a populist form of art, and sometimes there is Pop Art subject matter incorporated into it. Marley told me that some of the Pop Art influences came out in her work in the “dot gain” pattern she likes to use in some pieces, used prominently by some well known Pop artists like one of Marley’s inspirations, Roy Lichtenstein. There is torn away corrugated cardboard also, which whether consciously or not helps me see the Pop Art influence. Cardboard cartons are a form of advertising re-created by another influence Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes piece. The textures made by corrugated cardboard also look great combined with the dot gain pattern, both visually and thematically.
To my eye, there is also Pop Art influence in the saturated color schemes and the creative re-use of materials. There appear to be things like old wood, recycled frames and old wall decor blended in many of the pieces. The “cheesy” kind of wall art many of us remember growing up with could be considered a form of Pop Art. They are cozy, familiar, homey objects that remind many of us of happy family times from the past. Some of these discarded items from other people’s families can be found in alleyways and thrift stores, and while hunting and dumpster diving you might also find cardboard and product packaging. Very fitting to blend such materials with the retro and populist sub-contexts of the show. Also an example of how you can use kitsch to make art that is decidedly NOT kitsch.
You can understand by what I have written above why I had a strong personal reaction to this show. To explain further, the huge blue spoon and fork seen on the wall in my photo are perhaps examples of those objects that for some artists can become powerful symbols that appear repeatedly in an artists’ body of work. Sometimes the audience knows right away what the symbols mean, in other instances they are part of a more private language that the artist uses. Giant wall utensils also appear in one of Marley’s paintings – see it here on her Instagram account. I grew up in a house with several painted plaster ornaments decorated by my Mom, myself and my brother. For example my Mom “antiqued” a giant wall set that included fork, spoon and ladle, and displayed plastic grapes in the ladle part of it! I can relate intensely to this symbol. I think what Marley did in painting either the actual objects from the painting or objects like them dark blue and including them on this wall is a masterstroke, both in color choice and concept. The feelings they might evoke in someone who grew up surrounded by similar objects are powerful. They are also good examples of Pop Art because of their kitsch appeal, large size, bold colors and celebration of ordinary household objects, all characteristics that help signal the Pop Art genre. To add yet another level of meaning, utensils are associated with Thanksgiving, a ritual that involves food and family, is coming up in two days, and probably had something to do with the timing of this show.
I’m thankful for all the people who had something to do with forming my character and creativity as I have lived life. And I am thankful for Marley’s show for inspiring me and reminding me what I owe to others.
I mentioned Pop Art subject matter above when I explained how Pop Art often celebrates objects that “ordinary” people use and encounter in their daily lives. A hamburger is one of the quintessential and ubiquitous American foods, and pop artist Claes Oldenburg was one of many pop artists who have celebrated the hamburger when he made his famous giant soft hamburger sculpture. The chain restaurants that feature objects on the walls evocative of the chosen restaurant theme could be considered a form of Pop Art as well. I don’t know a lot about the industry that supplies these objects, but I would like to! Some restaurants appear to use reproductions and/or vintage and antique objects to help create the desired atmosphere. It is very fitting that the new Red Robin restaurant in Richmond Heights, Missouri is decorated with colorful and engaging Pop Art. At least some of it appears to be specially commissioned work. I went to eat there because some of my friends were checking it out and I wanted to socialize with them (see photo). The art work was a special treat that I did not expect. Basically they turned the dining area into a giant Pop Art installation. There was even a hamburger hassock! The graphic below is a montage of some of my favorite pieces. Enjoy while contemplating an art form that originated as commentary on commercialism being shamelessly used as advertising! And very appealing advertising if you ask me…
Faux postage is a really fun mixed media project to make because it’s relatively non-threatening to create tiny works of art in a format that everyone is familiar with. There are lots of craft products you can buy that make it easier to make artwork that looks like postage stamps. A long time ago I designed some rubber stamps for this purpose and some of them are currently for sale in my Etsy shop. You can make this project with any other small stamps that you own also and a selection of paper crafting supplies. Enjoy!
1. Download and print out the two-page PDF file Low Tech Faux Postage. You’ll use the first page for Part 1.
2. Cut out some paper rectangles that are 1 3/4 inches tall and 1 3/8 inches wide from dark paper. You will need at least 16 rectangles.
3. Trim the edges with a paper edging scissors and arrange on your Low Tech Faux Postage sheet Page 1. You can think of your sheet as one composition made up of 16 tiny compositions if that helps you to get ideas. Glue down your trimmed paper rectangles.
4. Use a 1″ square paper punch and start by punching out one square for each rectangle from a selection of random scrap papers. Arrange until you are satisfied. If you have similar sized paper punches in other shapes such as circles, feel free to try them out. As you look through your scrap papers, you might get inspired to cut out other shapes. If you are moved to do so, go ahead and cut out whatever you like and glue down on your sheet without worrying about whether or not you’re “inside the lines”.
5. Take some tiny rubber stamps with words, phrases, numbers or symbols that have to do with philatelic stuff like stamps or cancellations. Stamp them in permanent black ink on light colored pieces of scrap paper. When the ink is dry enough to handle, cut or tear out what you have stamped.
6. Glue the torn or cut pieces to the collage work you’ve already done to help make each rectangle suggest a postal stamp design.
7. Continue to add embellishments to your stamps until you think they look finished. Here are some suggestions for what you can add:
More cut collage papers, found or commercial
Drawing – paint and gel markers are interesting choices to experiment with because you can write with them on slick surfaces and sometimes dark backgrounds as well
Stenciling Image transfers
8. When your stamp sheet is done, you can frame the whole thing to display it, cut apart your stamps to make tiny artworks, make color copies then cut apart the color copies, or put the whole thing in an art journal. Your imagination is the only limit and the most important thing is to have fun!
Many years ago, as one of my Mail Art projects, I used to fold two-inch wide pieces of paper into little accordion books and decorate them with rubber stamps and pieces of paper that I cut out from incoming Mail Art and decorated envelopes. I carved a rubber stamp with a little graphic of a Mail Box and the words “Bits of Mail” to stamp on the little book covers. Before sending them out, I dated and numbered them on the back. I saved one example for my archives and made a few color copies to use later as collage inspirations. While I was getting the color copies made, it came up in conversation with the copy center worker that one of the black and white machines had red toner in it. I made a lot of copies with the red toner because I knew I’d find uses for the copies later!
Some of my old collage papers along with my Mail Archives had been in storage unseen for 20 years or more. I’ve been getting some of them out lately as I move stuff. With fresh eyes, I’m getting some new ideas and inspiration for improving old ideas. I decided to take these old copies and make new versions of the mini accordion books.
First I cut up the copies that weren’t already in strips into two inch wide pieces, the same size as the originals. Then I folded them and glued one red ink copy to one color copy back to back to make longer books.
I had a large paper crafting stash by 1998 already because I started making collages in 1985 in my first college design class and I’ve been collecting interesting papers for collages ever since. In the intervening years, there are a lot more paper crafting supplies available and some of them are a lot more to my taste than what was available in the late 1990s. Back in the day I would have said I was a “weird” stamper not a “cute” stamper. I also enjoy sophisticated antique imagery and have a lot of papers from two of my favorite brands, Tim Holtz and 7 Gypsies, in my stash. I decided that the Tim Holtz idea-ology Correspondence paper pad was a good fit for this project and I glued some of the postal themed textures onto a selection of the blank pages of my books. The dominant colors in this series are red white and blue which looks good with the red toner ink on some of my papers and the postal motifs fit the “Bits of Mail” theme.
Next I went through I box of paper scraps that I keep for teaching a card class that I run from time to time on how to make greeting cards from little scraps, rubber stamps and stencils. I took out a selection of papers that I thought would make good backgrounds and glued them in a random fashion to every other page, leaving some blank.
There is an old trick that I learned in drawing class long ago to help get unstuck if you are facing a blank piece of paper with no ideas – draw a quick frame around your drawing area before you start. This helps because it’s less daunting to start drawing on a paper that you’ve made some marks on than a blank surface. I get the same creative boost from using scrap papers for perhaps a similar reason – there is already some content there, however sparse and random, and that is often all I need to get me going in a creative direction.
The little accordion books I’ve made are pictured above ready to add content. What kind of content would that be? There are lots of things I could do with these little books. I could write, draw, stamp or paste in words and/or images to make a finished artistic statement. I could use them as a storage and display folio for tiny works of art such as postage stamps, faux postage stamps or tiny photos and images. I could send them off into the Mail Art network as an “add and pass on” project. What would you make?
For additional inspiration, here are some samples of tiny books made by other people that I’ve received through the mail over the years. People of any age and ability level can make tiny books. Why not try one?
I’ve been out of the Mail Art and ‘Zine scenes for over 20 years now, and to my surprise for some reason I’m getting nostalgic about it and thinking about getting back into it a little bit. I’ve never stopped making faux postage designs, rubber stamped art and Dada-influenced collages, but I stopped networking except through my web site because I got spooked by some of the extreme networkers I was occasionally in contact with. I figured I no longer had the stomach to participate in the “underground”. I mainly was networking for art and creativity and I’m still inspired creatively by what I did back then. I was not in it for anarchy, political change or social change except for some social commentary that I occasionally included.
I think part of the reason I feel like possibly participating again is that when I got spooked, I was in the middle of a couple of Mail Art group projects that I didn’t finish and I never sent out the documentation. I’ve felt guilty about this for a long time. One was called the “Turn Off Your Television Project” and another was called the “Fish Tapestry Project”. After writing the research paper I just published yesterday, I think I might want to finish that documentation and fulfill the obligation I took on myself 20 years ago. I probably won’t be able to get in touch with all the people who participated but I can try.
My friend Mark Reed who co-hosted the fish tapestry project with me passed away late last October and it would be a great tribute to him if I could finish that one too someday. I have only this week been able to bring myself to look again at some of his artwork that his family gave to me. I always thought he threw away too much of his old work and I’m glad that I have some of it. I may even finish some of the stuff that is unfinished. We collaborated and shared ideas a lot back in the day. I think he would like that.
I would be pleased if someone finished my old work after I’m gone. I’d rather have that happen than it be thrown away. I always have a lot of unfinished projects that I take up and put down at various times. I’m sure I’ll be leaving some unfinished ones behind someday. Actually it’s been painful for me to look at a lot of my old work and archives for a long time because so many of the people that I lived that time of my life with are dead. Maybe now I’m finally able to start dealing with the memories. Also I felt like much of my old work was an embarrassing failure. Looking at it now, some of is indeed embarrassing but some of it is not so bad! A former abusive relationship made me feel like I should not do any art because I was no good and didn’t deserve to do it just because it was good for me and made me feel alive. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I was ever going to take it up again.
My Mail Art name was Carolyn Substitute, my ‘zine was called the Lime Green News, and my faux postage was produced under the name “Lime Green Post”. I decided today to do an online search and see if I could find any references to my old Mail Art activities.
If you would like to explore this world I found the following:
stardust Memories Mail-aRt-Links and projects – bless this person for putting a link to my old web site on archive.org! I haven’t seen it in so long. I redesigned it in 1999 and I don’t think I looked at the old one since then because it made me so embarrassed!
Lime Green Evolution World of Art – 1997-1999 – My first web site, how I transitioned from analog networking to digital networking. Thinking back on it, printmaking class in 1987 led to rubber stamping, rubber stamping led to Mail Art, Mail Art led to ‘zines, ‘zines led to taking a class to get better at desktop publishing, which led to published a web site, that led to being a web designer, which led to doing marketing which led to me working on a marketing degree. No wonder I called my first web site Lime Green Evolution. And I didn’t even put in all the other tangents I followed along the way! I used to stay late a lot after my web design job ended at 5 pm to work on my personal web site and wait for the traffic to die down.
One of the things we are studying in my Mass Communications class is how people make media meaningful for themselves. Back in the ‘zine / grunge / Mail Art era we used to do a lot of collages, small press publications and mixed media projects. I’m sure there are still people out there doing these things and with technology we have a lot more options available. Most likely I’ll be exploring this in a future research project.
Edit: here is my new page on the International Union of Mail-Artists web site. I’ll be putting some old and new work there.
I made this collage right at the time I stopped publishing the Lime Green News in paper form. I’m pretty sure I have a draft written on some floppy disc somewhere about how I made this collage and some others using outlines of black paper that I cut out with paper edging scissors to make compositions that look like postage stamps. I was going to publish the tutorial and a copy of the background for people to make their own stamps. I made several stamp sheets using this background as I recall. Such stamps are also known in the art and stamp collecting world as “Cinderella Stamps”, “Postoids” and “Artistamps”.
I never went back to the idea with this pseudo-postal background because I assumed that with computers and desktop publishing becoming more prominent people would not be interested in making faux postage stamps the “analog” way any more. But looking at this collage now that more than 20 years have passed since I made it I actually like it a lot. After going to that Gauguin show that I wrote about in my last blog post I’m reminded of how much I loved studying other cultures and abstracting some elements from them into and combining them with Mid-Century Modern type of abstraction. A lot of the black line work was made by rubber stamps. The Egyptian hieroglyphics stamp is a commercial rubber art stamp, but I carved all the others.
For some reason if I scan a collage and invert the colors in Photoshop, the results are often better than the original. I needed a new Facebook header so I rearranged the above collage and did a quick inversion. Fun!
Yesterday my husband Tom and I attended the last day of the Gauguin exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum, Paul Gauguin: The Art of Invention. Our friend Mike went with us and treated us to the tickets that he had earned from doing volunteer work.
When I first became interested in studying art, I wanted to be a painter. When I took ceramics and printmaking for the first time, I lost interest in painting and stopped reading about it as much as I used to in favor of my new passions. Over the years I also have done some pretty intense study of fiber arts, various crafts, collage, Dadaism, neo-Dadaism and Mail Art, ‘Zines, book arts, Outsider Art, Pop Art, photography, computer animation, web design, architecture, graphic design, the decorative arts, archaeology and anything Mid-Century Modern. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were the first kinds of painting that drew me in but over the years I came to prefer Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism as painting styles. I hadn’t done any reading on Gauguin for a long time.
I really enjoy artists and designers who work in a variety of media, such as Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse and Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times I feel guilty about having so many interests and dabbling in so many different occupations and areas of study. Today’s society seems mostly to expect you to do only one thing but that is not and never will be “me”. So at this Gauguin show I was very intrigued to see some of Gauguin’s ceramics, wood carvings and woodcut prints alongside the paintings. There were ceramics and decorative objects from Gauguin’s personal collection as well as Oceanic and Peruvian art that was representative of the cultures Gauguin was influenced by. He was also at various times a sailor, a stockbroker and a writer. People like this make me not feel so weird!
As a former ‘zine publisher (Lime Green News 1991-1998), I was excited to see a woodblock print graphic in the exhibit that Gauguin carved to help him publish his own newspaper, which could be considered a type of ‘zine. I’m currently taking a Mass Communications class and in our textbook Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future by Stanley J. Baran and Dennis K. Davis, I’ve highlighted a very intriguing sentence: “Extremists were often forced to rely on older media like pamphlets, handbills and political rallies.” I don’t know if Gauguin would have been considered an “extremist” in his time but he was critical of religion and government and his lifestyle was, to put it politely, pretty “bohemian”. When I read the above sentence in my textbook I thought of the history of self publishing and the many forms it can take. Before movable type printing presses, documents were hand written or perhaps laboriously printed with hand-printing methods such as stamping and wood block printing. Later there were typewriters, carbon paper, mimeographs, copy machines, desktop computers with printers and the World Wide Web, making self-publishing easier and more accessible.
When I was ‘zine publishing, I used to make my originals on paper to be copied on a copy machine at the office supply superstore. I started out with text printed out on an inkjet printer on my 1983 Commodore 64 computer, which I used for all my word processing until 1995. I essentially made big collages for my pages, combining the printed text with a variety of graphics, collages and hand-drawings. If I wanted to add color I would sometimes carve a rubber stamp and stamp it on the finished prints. I think the largest edition I ever made of my ‘zine was 100, so stamping 100 times to add a bit of color was feasible.
I got a Windows computer in 1995 with a black and white laser printer. At that time I got Internet access for the first time and started reading on the World Wide Web. My first web site went live in 1997. Gradually I made my ‘zine using more modern desktop publishing methods and by learning software such as the Microsoft Office suite, Corel Draw and Photoshop. The last years of my ‘zine incorporated more and more “modern” techniques but were still made as big collages with some hand-embellishments before copying. In 1998 I just switched my ‘zine content over to my web site, which although a bit out of date in spots is still live (www.limegreennews.com). It needs some (ok a lot of) work because I’ve been neglecting it in favor of the blog you are reading now.
Publishing online is very satisfying, but I miss the lower-tech, handcrafted methods of self-publishing sometimes. I still like book arts in various forms. I’d like to write about or engage in some self-publishing as I work on my master’s degree if possible. It’s been on my mind ever since reading that sentence in the textbook. I got out some of my old ‘zine originals to go down memory lane and think about some possible research ideas. ‘Zine publishers do a lot of trading and I had a big collection of other people’s ‘zines plus material they sent me for consideration for publication. I donated the bulk of my collection to the Poetry and Rare Books collection at the University of New York at Buffalo some years ago but I did save a few things I especially liked. I have no idea what they kept of my collection if anything, but they did have a subscription to my ‘zine when it was in publication and I didn’t know of anyone else who might be interested! I didn’t save much of the “extremist” stuff for my own collection because it frankly scared me and was one of the reasons I dropped out of the printed ‘zine scene – it helped contribute to a major anxiety attack that I eventually received treatment for and recovered from. I don’t think I’ve ever said publicly why I dropped out of the ‘zine and Mail Art scene suddenly but that is a major part of why I did that. I do miss aspects of it though. I’m kind of hoping that working on my degree will bring opportunities to do some research on this era of communication or even get back into it in some way. I might even re-publish on this blog some things that are not too embarrassing that aren’t yet online. We’ll see!
Just for fun, since the art show I just saw included Oceanic art and some work by Gauguin that shows how he was influenced by that art , here is what the cover of Lime Green News #2 looked like. I took a postcard with rubber stamped art work that I liked from another mail artist and taped down some sketches from my then-current Oceanic art history class. I drew and stamped crudely around the sketches and the postcard to make a cover. On the left is my original, on the right is a simulation of what the cover would have looked like after copying it on a black and white machine at the office supply superstore. I don’t know if I even have a printed version of this issue in my archives, I probably just have the original. At that time, if my memory is correct, I used to print about 10-15 copies just to trade with people.
What do Ross Perot and Oceanic art have to do with each other? I had no idea then and don’t now, but one thing I have not ever grown out of is making collages out of random things. Now I call it Art Journaling and use it as one of my artistic outlets since I don’t really try to make “Fine Art” type art any more. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas, I do, I just don’t see what good it would do for anybody. But I never know what older ideas I’m going to go back to!