Mailbox Friends

Keith Bates's Postal Art Site

What is Mail Art?

Mail Art can be as simple as having lots of artist penfriends and exchanging art by post. It's also a bit deeper than that.

Since the 1960s, the Mail Art network has been made up of thousands of artists, each with their own group of contacts, all in a state of flux as artists come and go, and friendships ebb and flow. Like the internet which followed it, the Mail Art network is decentralised with each participant at their own focal point.

Mail Art frequently operates through 'Calls' or invitations which request contributions on a particular theme, often with specific media, size and deadline requirements. There is no controlling authority or leadership, but Mail Art Projects and Shows have their own protocols – no fees, no jury, and documentation which has traditionally been printed and mailed to participants, though it has now become common practice to display contributions online. Paradoxically, project submission via email has been slow to gain widespread acceptance, though this is increasingly, if cautiously, being welcomed as an augmentation to traditional mail.

I was introduced to the inclusive club of Mail Art in the early 1980s at an Open University Summer School in Norwich, when I attended a course called 'Networking' organised by the Polish artist Henryk Gajewski. In Mail Art I found the social outlet for my artworks that I was missing, and anyone who could afford postage stamps could join in. I'd also found a source of inspiration and enlightenment that leapfrogged geographical and political boundaries.

100% Mail Art

These Days

My most recent project, starting in 2012, has been to design mailogram logos for other mailartists. I'm happy to be more of a designer than a mailartist these days, though I can always be tempted by an exciting project, such as making fifty A3 size rubberstampings for Lutz Wohlrab's commemoration of Mail Art's 50th birthday. I still send the occasional artwork to Mail Art projects that interest me, but I'm increasingly inclined to send digital contributions and prefer to participate in projects that encourage submission via email.

Vittore Baroni declared 2010 to be a year of 'Art Detox' which at the time suited my mood perfectly, wishing to focus on making K-Type fonts and joining in with the mail art game whenever inspiration struck. The Exemption Order below was my tongue-in-cheek excusal from Mail Art activities.