Having so much fun with the February letter. Now that my initial anxiety is gone (thanks to such a great response from the first recipients of the January letter) I have been able to muse on the idea of Mail—its symbols, its purposes, its paraphernalia—more, and get creative and playful with my letters.
I started by making a mini-sheet of Artistamps.
An artistamp is a tiny art form that resembles a postage stamp in shape, size, and feel. It is not valid for postage, but is different from a forgery or illegal stamp in that the creator has no intent to defraud the postal authorities or stamp collectors. In this way, the artistamp resembles the Cinderella stamp, which resembles a postage stamp but is not used for postage purposes—even when issued by a government agency. Commemorative, holiday, charity, propaganda and fundraising stamps all fall under the Cinderella stamp category…
Irony, satire, humor, eroticism and subversion of governmental authority are frequent characteristics of artistamps. Artists play with the expectation of official endorsement that the postage stamp format inheres in order to surprise, shock, or subvert, the complacent viewer’s presumptions.
The fact that the artist’s stamp sets its own stamp on an (art) letter is one of the special features of this form of expression. A further facet of this small-format art is its challenging the mail monopoly by laying claim to the perforated and gummed miniature works of art. The stamps the artists create are not meant to swindle the postal service, but to call into question the right to design things.
(from the catalog of the exhibition Leck mich! – Künstlerbriefmarken seit den 1960er Jahren (Lick me! – Artist’s Stamps since the Sixties) by The New Museum Weserburg, Bremen, Germany)
The designs will be familiar to most of you; they have been taken from scans or photographs of my sketchbooks and paintings. There are 18 different designs on each sheet, and everyone who receives the February letter will get a complete set. The hardest part of making these stamps was deciding which 18 images to use! It was so much fun, and the finished stamps are so endearing, that I know I’m going to have to design several sheets more, over time, just because I want to see what everything I have ever made looks like as a stamp!
The phrase, “the right to design things,” in The New Museum Weserburg’s exhibiton description, resonates with something I feel about postage stamps. When I looked into the stamps currently available from Australia Post’s philatelic shop, I found only half of the available designs were stamps that I would care to put on my letters. Among the reasonably nice flowers, landscapes, Aboriginal art, and animals (especially the gold-foiled Chinese New Year horoscope sheet), were sets like: Legends of Television Entertainment, Convict Past, and Norfolk Island Convict Heritage (two distinct sheets sporting drab paintings of historic prison buildings), the black and white set of Women in War, a banal collection of Love to Celebrate stamps (roses love-heart, pair of wine glasses, pair of wedding rings, cake, balloons, etcetera) and a couple of small, brown, dull Christmas Island Early Voyages stamps. An announcement heralds the imminent release of the depressing Norfolk Island Golf stamp set, featuring a man rolling his golf clubs across the green. I don’t understand why such a poverty of beautiful stamps exists in my country…it seems almost as though AusPost doesn’t hire artists to design their stamps, at all, but hands the task out to retired accountants and ossified history professors.
How I envy people in the U.S. their ability to order customised stamps from Zazzle.com, with anything they want, printed on them! So lucky….
Until Australia catches up with the world, I guess I’ll carry on making artistamps.
I messed up the first sheet by trying to perforate the stamps with my sewing machine. Without power on the boat, this meant turning the wheel with one hand while guiding the sheet with the other. It took nearly an hour to perforate one sheet, so I gave up on that idea. Instead, I used a pair of craft scissors with a fine wavy pattern to cut the stamps apart. Quicker and much nicer looking.
I’ll be sending a complete set to each of my letter subscribers. They’re in a miniature envelope, with an extra artistamp affixed, and my friends at the local post office lent me their cancellation stamp—whee!—so I have franked each stamp with an official ring. I love playing with the Post Office’s toys!
What to do with these (or any other) artistamps? Have a play in your journal, use them in collage, decorate letters you’re writing, or in scrapbooking projects, whatever.
Can you use them, mixed in among the real postage stamps, on an envelope?
According to Wikipedia, “Artistamp creators often include their work on legitimate mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art. In many countries this practice is legal, provided the artistamp is not passed off as or likely to be mistaken for a genuine postage stamp. When so combined the artistamp may be considered part of the mail art genre.”
I don’t know if the stamps I’ve made here are safe to use in the post. I probably shouldn’t have put a monetary value on the stamp, even though it should be obvious that there are no 99c stamps, and they don’t even say which country they’re from. I’m going to ask the Post Office about Australia’s laws on this, and hopefully they will actually have someone who knows the answer! Queries like this are probably exceedingly rare, these days, and I worry that it’ll be hard to find a government employee who knows or cares about these finer points of the law.
Always ask about your country’s laws before using artiststamps or Cinderella stamps, as decorative elements, on envelopes going through the actual post…being wrong could turn out to be a federal offense!
In case you haven’t already heard, every month I write, and then reproduce, a beautiful art letter—calligraphy, illustrations, postage stamps, wax seals, fun inclusions like artistamps or poems or photos, and so forth—and send it out as part of a letter subscription. Find a stunning work of letter art in your mailbox…once a month, for a few months up to an entire year.
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