by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
i get weird shit in the mail. i’m not talking ‘spam’ mail. i’m talking actual weird physical crap people mail to me out of the blue. i’ve been sent just about everything you can imagine – good and bad. i once got a dead rat in the mail. i think it was love. (at least it came from a girl with crush on me. wasn’t high school swell?) for some reason i attract kooks and other such creatures (and i’ve come to love it). i’ve gone through death threats (4 times), phone calls from saturn (twice), stoner gibberish (endless) and fan-mail that is beyond description. as much as i’ve grown used to even the most disturbingly weird shit that reaches me, i have to admit i still get a twinge of delight when something odd shows up. people are so dang smart and inventive, ya know? even when they’re nuts.
this item i share with you arrived in my mailbox (i use a p.o. box these days – i need to make sure of things before i let them enter my home). this arrived about ten years back or so. if you don’t recognize what this is, it’s a silkscreen printer’s ‘squeegee’ handle (the plastic printing edge has been removed, leaving only the wooden handle). somebody slapped some postage on it, addressed it (they even wrote “hi, art!” on it. it’s small and in ball-point pen sorta under the postage), then dropped it in the mail. isn’t it sweet?
the old rules of the postal system (before privatization) was that whatever you dropped in a mailbox with the correct postage on it was delivered – no questions asked. so a whole slew of bizzarro mail artists sprung up in the early/mid 1970′s, creating one of the first massive underground networks. people like anna banana and genesis p. orridge began their first big creative efforts in this turf. in fact, genesis won my ‘favorite mail-art’ sweepstakes when he stapled postage and address onto a big piece of raw meat and dropped that in a mailbox. the post office actually delivered it, too! imagine the stink? the stains? how did they ever cancel the stamps?
those old post office rules were created to promote tourism and facilitate address changes, etc. remember all those coconuts mailed from hawaii? that’s why the rule was there, stuff like that. but, it also promoted interstate commerce with places like alaska. like everything else you can imagine, alaska has really cheap government subsidized postal service. one notorious case happened where a construction contractor down in seattle discovered that it actually cost less to mail his construction supplies than to ship them using conventional methods (boat, rail, air). so, he began simply addressing and adding stamps to things like cinder blocks and just MAILING it to alaska. he saved millions. the post office finally had to install some rules because the postmen literally got physically tired of delivering cinder blocks and 2x4s. entire buildings were built out of materials covered in stamps and addresses and cancellations.
this worn-out used squeegee was sent to me by artist jay ryan. jay is one of the very best designer/illustrator/artist/poster makers in the united states today (maybe the world). no joke. he is so good he’s almost in a class by himself. as time goes on, he just gets better. do a little effort and check out his work – you will not regret it. he’s one of the few poster artists in the country that i know that actually makes a living doing his poster art. that’s quite an accomplishment in itself. jay’s work so completely blurs the line between ‘design’ and ‘art’ that the two opposite sides of that old debate simply give up and embrace him.
i first encountered jay ryan back in the early/mid 1990′s. i was approached by a guy who was turning his living room into an art gallery. his idea was to show work he likes and have opening parties and spread good cheer and maybe sell some stuff. sounded ok by me. his first show was to be my work alonside another old artist friend from back in his hometown of chicago – a guy named ‘jay’. i was shown jay’s work and it was really great stuff. his drawing style was already completely fully realized by then and his posters were humorous and inventive and clever. i laughed when i checked them out. that’s really hard to do – make people laugh when they look at a poster.
the one thing i noticed that was really weak was his reliance on presstype (that rub-down transfer lettering we used back in the olden daze.) here were these great little posters that were a total delight and then it would all fall apart when he slapped down this stiff awkward typography. i mentioned to the gallery guy that he ought to start drawing his own lettering. for some reason, many artists and illustrators are very hesitant to draw their own lettering on poster work. it’s like they’re intimidated by type. i often suggest that illustration students i teach should simply draw their own lettering (if you can sit down and draw an object like a rock or a flower – you can draw a lower case ‘a’. just look at it and draw it!) the wonder of the process is that the artist’s ‘hand’ and personality comes through when they draw type just like when they draw anything else. it turns a big poster design into a seamless whole (instead of an awkward ‘picture with caption’ – like a gag-panel cartoon). jay’s early work needed to conquer the type or he may have been stalled by the problem.
somehow that message was conveyed to him and he actually listened to my BS. he started drawing his own lettering on his posters – and magic happened! you can spot a little of his lettering on the address label on this old broken squeegee he mailed me. he immediately became an absolutely brilliant lettering artist as well. seems the guy really could do dang near anything with his hands – and do it brilliantly. as he progressed in his posters, his skills began to jumped in quantum leaps. he just became astonishing. total confidence of total control in his work was a magic key for him. when he began silkscreen printing his own posters, the lid blew off the top of his career. check his work out.
over the years, jay and i became friends. i deeply admire him and his work – he is a true prince. when i got this broken stained squeegee in the mail, i took it as an act of friendship. it was a gesture done on the spur of the moment by a guy who was tossin
t a ruined piece of equipment and thought of me – then mailed it to me as a joke. i treasure crap like this. it’s a nod to me from a brilliant young master artist that is now my friend. people ask me why i do this freelance graphic design stuff when i’m old and broken and ‘in the way’, now. they just don’t get it.
AC:in fact, my old partner, jamie sheehan, once sent out a brick in the mail as a xmas card. she silkscreened on some “FDA” nutrient info on the side and popped them in the mail. most people who got them didn’t get it, though. i though it was hilarious and i they looked absolutely great….it’s not so strange. when you’ve been around as long as i have, you tend to bump into people. i also have a theory about living in seattle during the “grunge’ years – that city became so popular and pivotal for a while that if i stood in one spot on a street corner in downtown seattle, i imagine that everybody i’ve ever known would have walked past me sooner or later. people flocked up there like lemmings to the sea. i was lucky to be standing around on seattle street corners for a spell….i recommended a greasy spoon in everett to some friends (carl among them). it was so awful that they stuffed a sausage patty in an envelope and stapled it shut and mailed it to me. there was a bite missing out of it. i seem to remember it was a window envelope, too….that envelope was one giant grease satin. even the ball-point pen address was blurred….influences go both ways. getting to know other artists was one of the best things about being a graphic designer. can also be a bad thing. some of these guys are assholes. people is people. but influences just sorta stay there….
…a nice cigar helps. so long as it’s not laced with anything. i have enough twerpy ‘frenemies’ out there that i couldn’t risk smoking it, though. not paranoid, just precautious. you have NO IDEA what i’ve gone through over the years….i got a zucchini in the mail once. it had a diaper thumb-tacked to it. dunno what the hell that was about….