I remember going to see a museum exhibit of collagist and correspondence artist Ray’s Johnson’s work when I was a graduate student. The exhibit showed I was struck by his humor and the way he used visual and contextual symbols, like the bunny logo, words, and a series of images of Elvis collaged with other imagery to create a series of intimate layered portraits about his life.
Throughout his life, Johnson sent thousands of artworks through the mail. His humble pieces set the framework for a future generation of artists who would later distribute zines or web pages during the early internet days.
Regardless of the media he worked in, be it painting, photography, collage, or mixed, the language he used was coded. Johnson contributed to a number of art movements — Pop, Performance, and Conceptual Art, before he founded a mail art network known as the New York Correspondence School. Mail art (aka postal art and correspondence art) is an art movement based on sending small scale artworks through the postal service, like collage postcards.
After seeing Johnson’s exhibit, I was inspired to work with collage again and grew interested in layering them with image transfers that I studied in a printmaking class. I’ve always liked combining media and using both printmaking and photographic techniques to achieve a unique aesthetic to my art. Recently, I revisited Johnson’s correspondence artworks which led me to thinking about Marcel Duchamp’s, Robert Rauschenberg’s, and Jasper John’s collage art and the similarities/differences between their works.
I decided to turn my inspiration into a class on how to make mail art using basic collage techniques along with a simple image transfer technique using clear packing tape and vintage magazines (photocopies of photographs and illustrations work well too!). I recently launched the class on Skillshare (a global learning community to create, connect, and collaborate with students around the globe), which you can sign up for here if you like.
Earlier this morning, I discovered this cool mail art project between artists, Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi. Posavec lives in London; Lupi resides in New York. After meeting twice and discovering a mutual fascination with each other’s work, they started a year-long analog data-drawing collaboration project called Dear Data.
According to their Dear Data website, this is how the project works: “Each week, and for a year, we collected and measured a particular type of data about our lives, used this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then dropped the postcard in an English ‘postbox’ (Stefanie) or an American ‘mailbox’ (Giorgia)! Eventually, the postcard arrived at the other person’s address with all the scuff marks of its journey over the ocean: a type of ‘slow data’ transmission.”
Anyway, I’d love to see you in class and if you know other artsy types who might like to join you, spread the word and let’s make some mail art!
Until next time…