Tuesday, June 9, 2009

POSTCARDS AS A DIMINISHING ART


This is a postcard made by a local artist, Rick Parker, and shot at our local NJ Transit train station (in 2007). Rick’s a cartoonist (check the link to his site on the recommended blogs/sites list to the right).

I love it. [Not done on a computer by the way.]

Back in the day (1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s) I collected postcards I dug pretty avidly (for me, which means I have probably a hundred or so). As did many poets I know.

Kenward Elmslie had a collection that included many rare turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th) ones (he told me once the cut-off date, but I forget exactly what it was, sometime around 1905 I think). I have one I got at a dinner party at his place on Greenwich Street back in the ‘70s.

I remember Bruce Andrews had one of those postcard racks you still see sometimes in stores in his apartment. One of the treats of visiting him was checking that rack out, which postcards he was spotlighting at the moment.

A lot of us used to make our own postcards, with collages on them or just alterations to the original card to make them more unique, usually humorously so.

[Just remembered that the artist Tom Burkhardt's reproduction of an artists' studio a few years ago, made entirely from cardboard and black paint (even the rags sticking out of paint cans and the artists' bed and blankets etc.) the parts of it you could buy for the lowest price of anything in the installation were the "postcards" pinned to the bulletin board over the artists' desk, also made of cardboard and painted on in black to evoke ones many artists in the '70s would have had pinned up, like one with a "photo" of Billie Holiday or "reproduction" of a painting by DeKooning, etc. (I bought one that was meant to be a Phillip Guston, figuring that would be as close as I'd ever get to owning a Guston)—anyway, another example of how prevalent postcards were in the downtown scene back in the day.]

Unique postcards were such common artists’ and poets’ favored objects, there was even a store in Soho that specialized in them, owned by Bevan Davies and called “Untitled.” It was on Prince Street, just around the corner (and down a block or so) from my apartment on Sullivan (it was across the street from Vesuvio’s bakery, if I’m remembering that name correctly, the last place to go, not long ago, from the old days, and Untitled even sold postcards with a photo of the street view of the bakery on it).

Most of the postcards sold in the tourist shops in Manhattan aren’t that interesting these days. But I still get the occasional interesting or original one from friends. But when I went to an artists event at a local shop here in Jersey (a storefront artists workshop mostly for kids) on Sunday afternoon because Rick was selling some of his art there (mostly the comic kind, including old Beavis and Butthead commix he drew for years, though he didn’t originate them of course) and saw this card, which was also reproduced as a poster, I grabbed some.

When I got home and put one in the box I keep my little postcard collection in, it brought back a lot of memories associated with postcards, from the old penny ones when I was a kid, especially the ones sold down the Jersey shore, to the artists specials created and sold in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.

I hope their appeal isn’t lost on younger generations. It’d be a shame to see them become entirely obsolete. Not yet, anyway.

3 comments:

harryn said...

i'm with you michael - occasionally, i still get one in the mail [hand-made + purchased] which i always save as a little piece of art or americana - still have a few from you ...
and it seems its always those funky little places that sell the best ones ...
dig the rack idea ...

AlamedaTom said...

Me too. This prompted me to look at a postcard you sent me in 1992, which is pinned to my bulletin board. It is a cool b/w shot of Kenneth Rexroth in his late days, charmingly disheveled. Superimposed on the lower right corner is the following text: "This is all pretty much the way it actually happened. It will never happen again."

And on the back, before the the private content that you wrote to me, you said: "And he knows how to dress pretty snazzy too! '--the Lal'" That still makes me smile because as I said, in the picture Rexroth is at the opposite end of the "snazzy spectrum."

Good memories....

~ Willy

Connie said...

Mike -
I just got through a book published by the Metropolitan about Walker Evans and the picture postcard. My collection includes 3 or 4 albums and as many shoeboxes!I've got the artist postcards, the museum postcards, the travel postcards, the holiday greetings postcards and the vintage postcards with a couple going back as far as the 1890s. What is the fascination? I don't know, but people have been collecting these little pieces of cardboard as long as publishers have been making them.