Thursday, December 5, 2019

Part 4: If you save it long enough you might use it in a collage


Scraps old and new have ended up in the Layout Scrapbook.  As an artist, people give me things I might use, and a collection of metro tickets from around the world finally gets used.  
If you give me a box of Niederegger Marzipan, I’ll be sure to recycle the foil wrappers.  The remains of a copy of Avant Garde, a short-lived magazine from the 1960s, are in the book after lingering in the family’s attic for decades).  


Go through boxes and find photos of young cousins eating ice cream (he now has five of his own children).  The polka twins are really one young lad who is now becoming a star down in Los Angeles and that punk with the goats is still rocking up in Portland.  You will never forget a trip to Mexico when you think about dairy products and Supradol (the best name ever for a painkiller).  

On the back cover of the book we get an illustration of Allen Hurlburt himself.  And finally, honk if you know Ken Budka.

Part 3: Scraps of 1990s Queerphemera

Club fliers, Queer Nation and other political stickers are among the things being liberated from boxes and ending up in the Layout Scrapbook.  My friend Daniel and I go back 30 years and he gets a whole page made of pieces of his past.  I remember when I first met Adrian Roberts showing pixelvision films of his naked body in grainy black and white.  Then there was his band Blue Period and now he is a famous club impresario.  Speaking of clubs, Jerry gave me an annotated map of New York City featuring venues that I imagine are long gone.

 

Part 2: Mail Art in the Scrapbook


My collection of mail art is growing.  The favorite pieces I receive get displayed for a while but eventually end up in archive boxes.  The Layout Scrapbook contains parts of hand-lettered envelopes, postage stamps and artist stamps.  Other artists share scraps with me, and they too might end up in the book.  Some artists get their own pages featuring their work and a few pages are expanded versions of the mail art I sent out myself.  The artists included in the book include Ed Giecek and his fantastic rubber stamps, prints from Serse Luigetti, Collages from Virgo, Jon Foster’s  stickers, prints and other work from Mindaugas Žuromskas and Ryosuke Cohen’s  Brain Cells.




Part 1: Layout – The Artist’s Scrapbook




I have been buying about-to-be-discarded books from public libraries for years.  In San Francisco we have weekly sales plus two semi-annual events that are huge.  The typical price I pay is always $1.  These are books usually a step away from the recycling bin.  Sometimes I read the books but more often they get cut up for other mixed media projects.  In the last few years I have begun converting these books into artist scrapbooks.




This entire year I have been laying out a new artist book in an old copy of Layout: The Design of the Printed Page by Allen Hurlburt.  40 years on, the book still stands up as a good design book.  One might ask why I just did not add it, intact, to my own library.   There are no shortage of used copies available online for less than $5.  The book is not rare.  And, if you wish to indulge a delusional hoarder, you can buy the same book for $965.  I see these sort of dealers at library sales all the time.


 

The Layout Scrapbook  is now full.  It includes pages of my own work, ephemera old and new as well as some of the mail art I receive.   It includes things picked up at this year’s inspirational Codex Art Book Fair.  The book contains pages with contributions from the artists at the San Francisco Correspondence Coop.  There are two pages full of ticket stubs. Mostly from 2019.  It is like a diary of museum shows I saw.   Another page was inspired by my visit to Then They Came for Me — an excellent show about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  My response to this who was to create a collage by adding maps of the U.S. Southern border where children are currently being forced into concentrations camps.  In the center of the collage is El Paso where a week after finishing the collage, a terrorist targeting Latinx people drove across Texas and murdered 22 people and injured 24 others.


 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Starting in the fog and finishing in the tropics

La Selva, mixed media on board, 48"x67"

During the last few months I have worked on a new piece in my Post-Folk Art Series.   The finished piece is a large (48”x67) site specific work for my friends’ home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  To avoid the complexities involved with shipping large artwork to Mexico, the piece needed to be finished on site.  I have just spent about three weeks in a luxurious villa, making art, gazing at the Pacific and being fed incredible food.  Sometimes an artist needs to make sacrifices.  
The project began in San Francisco.  First, I estimated the quantity for each different size of squares and circles of painted paper that would be required.  I always over-estimate to give me added flexibility.   The scale of this piece required a spreadsheet to track all the quantities needed.
With a set of numbers, I was ready to begin painting paper.  The palette reflects the setting.  In Puerto Vallarta, hills shrouded in tropical jungle come right down to the edge of the city.   That jungle was my inspiration.
After all the paper was painted, it was time to start cutting squares in sizes from an half inch to 3 inches.  To cut perfect circles, I use a series of punches.   I needed nearly 2,400 three-quarter inch circles, as well as quantities of circles that were 1.5, 2 and 2.5 inches, plus thousands of small dots made with hole punches.   I am greatly indebted to the artist Dorothy Yuki.  Dorothy came over one afternoon with her Provo Craft cutters and helped me punch out most of the circles.

When I was packing up art supplies for my trip, I realized the paper circles and squares would need to stay with me in my carry-on luggage.  Those thousands of pieces represented more than 100 hours’ worth of effort.  I could not allow them to be lost in transit.
Arriving in Mexico I found the large the board waiting for me.  The next step was to find a paint store and then get a few coats of color on the edges and surface.  I always use a basic, interior latex house paint. There is no need for expensive acrylics.
With the board now prepped, it was time to set up my workspace.  A large table was protected with plastic and drop cloths and the big board was laid out.  It was time to draw a grid for a guide and get to work.
Over the next ten days I spent many hours gluing and fitting the squares, and then adding the layers of the circles.  Fans kept me cool with temperatures in the 90s.  The humidity is intense, but it slowed the drying down just enough to give me a bit more flexibility.  The climate does make a difference.  In San Francisco, I typically need to wash caked glue off my hands about every 15 minutes, where in Puerto Vallarta I could go for half-an-hour.  It really is that humid.
As I was working, an Important holiday was approaching.  Día de los Muertos was on my mind.  In the evenings I would go down in to town to see the ofrendas that were being installed as the day drew near.  Even Puerto Vallarta’s Halloween celebration has most kids in Day of the Dead-themed costumes, and if not that, a costume with a scary theme.  Imagine two year old little girls dressed as vampires instead of princesses.  The night of November 2nd included a parade and dance performance by youth groups in folk costumes with a Día de los Muertos twist.   
Back home in San Francisco, I always set up my own more elaborate ofrenda. In Mexico, I stuck to some simple candles and some rather pungent marigolds in the tropical heat.  As I sat at the table with the big piece of art spread out in front of me, I began to recall memories of my great-grandmother and her sisters around a similar big piece of art.  For them it was one of the many quilts they worked on.  Patterns from quilts and other textiles have influenced my work for more than 20 years.  Assembling a large, colorful, patterned piece felt like I was coming full circle — all the more appropriate at a time we remember our ancestors.  
As I got towards the end of the project, I realized that I had underestimated the amount of glue I would need.  My preferred choice, GAC 100, was not available.  I found one small shop in Puerto Vallarta with art supplies.  Their best option is a glue called Resistol 850.  Fortunately, it worked well for my purposes.  I liked it so much, I returned to buy an additional bottle to bring home to California.
There was one other complication.  A harsh Mexican art critic forced me to cover up the piece each night with a drop cloth.  It was one of the resident geckos who had a tendency to climb up in the rafters and aim gecko poo at my art.  Tempting as it might be to make a nod to Chris Ofili and include a bit of gecko poo, none ended up in the final artwork.  But the tropics being the tropics, there are a few small insects embedded for all time in the acrylic varnish that coats the artwork.   The insects can only add authenticity to a piece titled La Selva (The Jungle).

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fall Mail

 
 

Returned from some travel to see a great deal of mail art waiting for me.   Adam Roussopoulos made this clever little book by adding color to pages of acetate, some very small mail art from Amy Irwen, Kathy Barnett sent a movable little frog, and Mindaugas Žuromskas is stenciling paper made from receipts that have been pasted together.  Here is some of the recent mail shown:
  1. R.F. Côté — Canada
  2. Fleur Helsingor - California 
  3. Peter Müller – Germany
  4. Lubomyr Tymkiv - Ukraine 
  5. Jokie X. Wilson – California
  6. Amy Irwen – Minnesota 
  7. Bonniediva – Illinois 
  8. Sally Wassink – California 
  9. Ed Giecek – Washington State
  10.  Kathy Barnett – Missouri
  11.  Adam Roussopoulos – Minnesota
  12.  Charles Kremenak – California 
  13. Keith Chambers – California 
  14. Mikel Untzilla – Euskadi/Spain 
  15. Mindaugas Žuromskas – Lithuania 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Remember the Aerogram

The latest mail art I received from R.F. Côté  came enclosed in an unused aerogram.   Aerograms were typically sold by postal services with pre-printed, or franked postage.  This Canadian one cost a mere 15¢ at the time it was sold, I assume back in the 1970s.  Reg had to add some additional 21st Century postage to guarantee I would receive it.
The trick with aerograms is they were made of thin, airmail paper and had to be folded and sealed by the sender.  No enclosures were permitted.  Their light weight meant they cost about 30% less to send than an airmail letter.  
In most countries they were purchased directly at the post office with the pre-printed postage. You could also find ones at office supply stores where you would then need to affix a postage stamp.
With an aerogram, once the writer had filled the page, they were finished.  If you typed, you could cram a lot into that letter.  Back in the 1980s they were an affordable way I and my college-aged friends would communicate.  As email became popular in the 1990s the use of aerograms started to wane.  The US Postal Service offered them until 2006, but I can’t imagine the sold many in that final decade.