The topic for Week 3 of my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques” is “Correspondence With Memory” and focuses on mail art. We covered three key artists who do mail art: Ray Johnson and his moticos, Ryosuke Cohen and his Braincell series (neither of which did much for me), and Eleanor Antin and her 100 Boots series (which I really liked.)
Some classmates have posted links to good resources on mail art, including:
- Mail Me Art project, which will have an exhibition in London this summer
- Vintage Envelope Art
- Classmate Mandy Fariello’s own lovely mail art work
- A mail art forum for artists
- The International Union of Mail Artists
- Mailart 365
I have limited experience with mail art. My two inspirations are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine correspondence.
For years, Tolkien entertained his children around the holidays with letters from Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in North America) filled with tales and sketches of the year’s events at the North Pole. This book inspired me as a kid and teen to illustrate my own letters. I don’t ever remember believing in Père Noël/Santa Claus/Father Christmas, but I remember figuring on early that the adults around me liked it when kids sent letters to the North Pole, not only for the cuteness factor but to have a useful list in hand. So I illustrated mine with water colour images in Tolkien’s style, often writing on behalf of my younger siblings as well (at their request.)
To me, this was a piece of art for my parents and a joke between us. Little did I know that they were actually sending copies through the post office, since Canada handles the mail for the North Pole! The year my letter ended up published in a local newspaper, I was in high school and rather mortified that everyone seemed to think I actually believed in Santa!
Two decades ago, I stumbled on Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and absolutely loved it. Bantock’s lush images and collages, which continued to appear in subsequent books, were a delight to discover. I had to examine each in minute detail to discover little connections and motifs shedding light on the story and the entire image.