These tiny artworks can’t be used for postage, but they do send a message. by Emily Cleaver July 13, 2017
|Iles Des Sourds. 1964. Coquilles de mer, 1974, Donald Evans Courtesy Estate of Donald Evans and Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York|
These are Cinderella stamps; artifacts that look like stamps but aren’t. These islands of love and friendship don’t exist. They were painted by the American artist Donald Evans, who made thousands of stamps for 42 imaginary countries over a short, bright career, before his death in a house fire in 1977 at the age of 33.
|Sabot. Poste Maritime., nd, Donald Evans.|
Artist Ginny Lloyd has been making artistamps under the pseudonym Gina Lotta since 1975. “An artistamp is a little museum,” she says. “You create an exhibit within a sheet of stamps. There’s complete freedom in what you want the content to be. They can have a political message, commemorate events from your life, whatever you want. I make sheets of stamps for people I know who’ve died. Some artists make them to distribute their work outside of the gallery system. Others mimic real stamps as a political commentary; some have had the Secret Service visit them for counterfeiting. Artistamps subvert in a quiet way. You have to look closely to see if they’re real or not."
Gina Lotta Post Space Series. Courtesy Ginny Lloyd
|Gnostis. 1949. Magical Symbols, 1972, Donald Evans.|
He kept the details of the lands he thought up deliberately and tantalizingly vague. He wanted viewers to step through these tiny doorways into worlds of their own imagination. These were vast territories, large enough to encompass all interpretations.
For other artistamp makers the form has been a way of making more political points. Unlike mass-produced official stamps, Cinderellas are hyper-local, often reflecting the personal preoccupations of the artist. Stamps traditionally commemorate the proud moments of a country, but Cinderellas can subvert that, marking the shameful or the perverse.
|Achterdijk. 1966. Pears of Achterdijk (Fondante de Charneu of Legipont),1972, Donald Evans|
The artistamp community today is a DIY culture of makers swapping stamps through the post, mixing up drawing with image-editing software, color printing with pinking shears, internet forums with the traditional mail network. For a new generation it’s retaliation against the global with the super-local, against the mass-produced with the slow-made.
|Adjudane. 1922. Pictorals, 1972, Donald Evans.|
Mail art creator Vittore Baroni has said that “Artistamps rebel against the monopoly of governmental emissions, claiming the right for everyone to self-produce and issue virtual values in any possible shape, number and subject.
”The countries Donald Evans created were peaceful, their politics idealized. The Island of the Deaf is a silent paradise with a capital called Hand-Talk. The country of Stein with its capital Gertrude is a literary dictatorship with 100 percent literacy. The imperial kingdom of Caluda emerges from a native takeover as the new independent state of Katibo, the Sudanese dialect word for a black man who sets himself free. He told the Paris Review in 1975 that his stamps were a “vicarious traveling for me to a made-up world that I like better than the one I’m in. No catastrophes occur. There are no generals or battles or warplanes on my stamps. The countries are innocent, peaceful, composed.”
|Gina Lotta Post Future Series. Courtesy Ginny Lloyd|
The art of Donald Evans was subject to a raft of self-imposed restrictions. He only painted stamps, always in the same sizes with frequently recurring themes, in washed out colors painted with the same brush. He used this sameness, this deliberate smallness, to explore the infinite. His stamps are pieces of physical evidence sent directly from the limitless landscape of the imagination.
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