In a small shop and studio near the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, Vincent Sardon designs hundreds of rubber stamps and prints. The stamps, which are sometimes several feet long, range from mocking portraits of political leaders to pin-up girls and nude cowboys. A new book published by Siglio Press, The Stampographer, collects Sardon’s witty designs, filling the first 85 pages with images only.
The book sets his satirical tone immediately, opening with a front matter spread covered in the repeated image of a blue hand with a raised middle finger. A few pages later, there’s a picture of a physical stamp that prints: “WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THAT WE WILL BE PUBLISHING YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY. HOWEVER YOUR LIFE WITH REMAIN AS SHITTY AS EVER.”
Sardon’s images and texts make us chuckle at ourselves and at the state of the world. “When an idea is funny,” he says in an interview with the editors of the book, “it’s usually because it contains a kernel of truth. Truth is brutal and candid, and makes you laugh.”
Sometimes Sardon causes us to laugh in the face of otherwise unbearable truths, as with a picture of various dictators, including Stalin, Kim Jong-Un, Mobutu, and Darth Vader, lined up in a grid, with Donald Trump tacked on at the end. In the headshot he’s in mid-shout, face scrunched from anger. It’s an especially striking image against the other 19 leaders who stare stoically or smile professionally. The image fits and doesn’t — funny because of how unpresidential he looks and painful when added to this group of leaders history frowns upon.
Stamps are often associated with bureaucracy, commonly used on official forms, passports, and other official documents. Sardon transforms these government tools or, as he puts it, protractors of “written violence,” into “miniature portable artistic machines.” He explains, “a stamp is never neutral,” and cites the heavy implications of stamps used by border agents and immigration officials.
Sardon became interested in printmaking while studying art at the University of Bordeaux, where the medium was considered lower class. In addition to experimenting with traditional printmaking processes such as engraving and wood blocking, he used erasers to make stamps for fanzines. Even within the realm of printmaking, stamps are thought of as tools for amateurs, items used for crafts, not fine art.
After finishing school, Sardon worked as a political cartoonist for several French newspapers, but disliked the editorial rules. While he makes his art by carving lines and delineations, he strays away from organized systems. At his shop, he sells both his prints as well as some of the stamps themselves. In selling the means to make the prints in addition to the works they create, Sardon makes us question our ideas around authorship. When we use his stamps, is he still the author of the print, are we collaborating, or is it just a product he sells?
At the New York Art Book Fair earlier this year, Sardon demonstrated his technique, quickly stamping his mono- and duochrome images onto paper. He made it look quick and easy, but the reality is that stamp-making is extremely labor intensive, combining elements of both sculpture and printmaking. In The Stampographer, the prints are often paired with a photo of the underside of the stamp, illustrating the transformation from object to image that often involves several stamps inked in different colors to create what appears to be a simple cartoon.
Having done some printing myself, I was impressed by Sardon’s speed and ability to control the printing process so quickly, evidencing his years of experience. But even without Sardon’s skill level, anyone can use stamps as decorations or to make artworks. “My work is destined for amateurs, not artists,” he said. “I sell things that are both tools and works of art; the potentialities contained within the tool — that’s what’s interesting to me.”