This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen. It is possible to spread this information to others, but for publications you will have to get permission from TAM and the interviewed person! Enjoy reading this interview.
MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HELD JR.
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HELD JR.
Started on: 3-11-1994
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 22-11-94
JH : My first trip to Europe was in 1975. I went to France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Holland. In Amsterdam I came across a rubber stamp store by chance. They sold sets of visual stamps (flowers, animals, fairy tales). I bought several, and talked to the director, Mr. Van der Plaats, about his business. When I returned to New York, I began to use them in my artwork (I was then doing pen and ink work). I never heard of artists using rubber stamps in the context of fine art before. I thought I had discovered a new art medium. But as a professional librarian, I began to research if this was true or not.
One day in the New York Times newspaper I saw an article about Bizarro Rubber Stamp Company. They published a catalog of visual rubber stamps. I wrote to the director, Kenn Spicer, and he informed me that there was an underground art form called mail art, and that they used rubber stamps to decorate envelopes. He gave me the names of two New York artists who were involved in this work: Ray Johnson and Edward Plunkett. Ray Johnson had started this artform in the fifties as a way of distributing his pop art imagery. Ed Plunkett gave a name to Johnson’s activities in 1962: The New York Correspondance School of Art. Plunkett sent me dadaesque “free tickets” that were rubber stamped with odd names and images. Johnson sent photocopied works, which he encouraged me to “add and send to” persons unknown to me. They turned out to be other members of the NYCSA, such people as Anna Banana and Richard C. But it was with Johnson himself that I had the greatest correspondence.
Ray Johnson not only introduced me to people through mail, but gave me the address and introductions to well-known artists like the painter Arakawa and his poet wife Madelyn Gins whose work I admired. For a young person not yet thirty, this was a fantastic way to participate in the contemporary art of my time, and actually meet the participants.
I accumulated more rubber stamps and made more and more mail art contacts. In 1976 I returned to Amsterdam to have a show at Stempelplaats, the rubber stamp gallery and museum that Mr. Van de Plaats had just started with the encouragement of myself and Ulises Carrion. While there, I spent one week with Carrion, a Mexican artist who had started the Amsterdam bookstore and gallery Other Books and So. Carrion was the center of the European mail art scene and exhibited and sold postcards, rubber stamp works, artist’s books, photocopy work, artist publications of all kinds, in short the only public distribution point for this very underground art form. From Ulises I learned the conceptual side of mail art and the philosophy behind much of my future activity.
RJ : What is this conceptual side of mail art in your eyes? How is it connected to your current activities ?
reply on : 20-12-1994
JH : Many of the ideas Ulises Carri