Interviews

Mail Art Bulletin: The Unlikely Mail Artist

A portait of Don Voisine by Phong Bui (via brooklynrail.org)

As president of the legendary American Abstract Artists and an accomplished talent who creates thoroughly abstract paintings, Don Voisine is not someone you’d normally associate with mail art, a medium that is dominated by artists who integrate text or collage into their work. Yet, for years Voisine has been quietly creating small postcard paintings that he sends to people around the world. These small paintings on thick textured paper appear as carefully composed as his larger work, which are characterized by dense black central voids or forms that are framed on two sides by stripes of color.

I received the gift of one of Voisine’s beautiful postcards last fall after I cooed over one of the works he gave to a Facebook friend. When it arrived I was thoroughly impressed with the way he was able to paint each part of the small surface in a different way that gave this compact object a visual richness. I should mention that this was all before the Mail Art Bulletin even began.

Recently, and with the artist’s permission, I added his work to Hyperallergic’s growing archive of mail art as I felt it beautifully demonstrated another aspect of how artists are using the medium to extend, explore and experiment with their work. I asked Voisine to answer some questions I had about his mail art works and how they came about. He kindly agreed.

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Hrag Vartanian: How did your postcard series come about?

Don Voisine: The idea of sending a little postcard-sized painting through the mail came about as a thank you to people that had done something for me. In 2004, I was at the Edward Albee residency in Montauk and while there I sent a couple of painted postcards to people who had helped to get me into the program.

In the late 70s, I made a couple of collaged postcards that I sent to people but they were humorous images, they were jokes. I wasn’t thinking of them as art. (An example is one made during a severe heat wave in NYC. I cut up a postcard of the World Trade Center towers. I glued it back together with one of the towers leaning on the other for support from the blistering heat.)

HV: How many do you think you’ve created?

DV: I have not kept a count; I’ve made quite a few postcard paintings, some for benefits such as Visual Aids’ “Postcards From the Edge” and A.I.R’s “Wish You Were Here,” but as far as actually sending them through the mails, I think maybe at most a dozen.

I mailed one to Brent Hallard in Japan after I had done an interview with him. A photo of the card after he received it seemed to show it made the trip relatively unharmed; the corners were rounded off a bit and that seemed to be the extent of the damage. In others there is more evidence of long distance travel. I like to see what the United States Postal Service will contribute as an unknowing collaborator. Stickers, scuffs and chatter marks. I mailed a card to Mark Dagley in Jersey City and he was disappointed because it arrived unscathed. I can’t vouch for the level of contribution my ‘collaborator’ is willing to provide at any given time.

HV: Do you receive requests for them?

DV: No I haven’t, and I don’t put it out as available like that. The surprise of finding a little beat-up oil painting in your mailbox is a key part of it. (So no emails requesting a card, please.)

HV: How does this complement your practice?

DV: It takes time to make these, almost as much as a “regular” painting. They are oil and acrylic paint on gessoed paper. I think it’s an indication that I don’t think of my work as a precious and untouchable thing; I can be loose and have fun with it too. It can go out into the real world and survive its slings and arrows.

HV: What do you think about mail art?

DV: As a whole I really haven’t given it much thought. I know a little of the history and when I came to New York in the mid-70s there was a great deal of mail art activity going on. One might think the internet could have killed off this idea so it’s fun to see a revival of interest in it. For me this is a personal project that I do whenever the fancy strikes.

Don Voisine’s contribution to the Mail Art Bulletin will be on display during the Presents: Three Months of Mail Art for Hyprallergic HQ exhibition that opens tomorrow at Hyperallergic HQ (181 N 11th Street, Suite 302, Williamsburg, Brooklyn). The show, which will be open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (noon to 6pm), continues until Wednesday, June 29.

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