Volume 6 Number 1, February 1996
Schelt, BC, CANADA
James W. Felter was the first art curator to twig to the phenomena of artists artists using the postage stamp format as an art medium. His early research (1969 -74) resulted in the first exhibition of works in this medium at Simon Fraser University's Gallery in 1974. His early discoveries included Joel Smith , at SFU (1969), who was doing paintings on postage stamp; Carl Daouset in Montreal (1970), who created a sheet of stamps to complement his book of poems, Les Lettres Mortes; and Robert Fried, who visited SFU in 1971 with his edition Non-negotiable Eights, a set of 3 serigraphed postage stamp images with perforations indicated by heavy embossing, and a color lithographed gummed and perforated sheet of three "pseudo postage stamps". None of these artists knew one another, nor were they aware of each others work with the postage stamp format. Felter, primed by his teenage stamp collecting passion, saw the 'light,' and the search began.
It was assisted by two early mail artists who visited SFU in the early 70's, Dana Atchley, who travelled the network giving presentations atvarious universities along the way, and Ken Friedman, who was involved withthe FLUXUS movement. Both spread the word by telling artists to contact Felter at SFU. The resulting exhibition Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images presented works by 35 artists and 7 artist groups from Canada, France, Germany, England, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and the USA. A catalogue of the exhibit was produced in '76, with assistance of the Canada Council, and expanded versions of the show were exhibited in 22 galleries in Canada, the USA and England from 1974-1981. It was also included as part of two larger exhibitions: Timbres et Tampons d'Artistesat the Cabinet des Estampes in Geneve in '76 and Stamp Art at Hedendaagse Kunst in Utrecht in 1980..
During the 70's, Felter was mail-arting under the nom de plume, Five/CinqAesthetics Limited. This limited Canadian corporation produced rubberstamps and postcards, generated press releases and did numerous mailart projects. It also developed the first computerized database of network artists. Felter started a sporadic correspondence with E. F. Higgins III in 1974, and finally met him in New York in 1978. Higgins introduced him to other artistamp creators such as Citizen Kafka, Rose Avery and Buster Cleveland. They met again in New York in 1979 for the opening of Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images at P. S. 1, and produced two collaborative issues. Such jointly created stamp editions, commemorating mail artists' visits have become a tradition in the network.
During the '79 to NYC, Felter called on the Leo Baeck Institute, following up on a tip that its collection included some original artist's stamps. There he was able to view the works of Karl Schwesig, who illustrated, on the blank perforated margins of official postage stamp sheets, the life and conditions of the internment Camp at Gurs, Vichy,France in 1941-2. As a result of his visit, Felter was able to obtain color transparencies and permission to use them on his own stamps to commemorate both Schwesig and others who suffered and died in the camps. It wasn't until 10 years later, however, that Felter was able to issue the Schwesig Commemoratives with the assistance of the Davidson Galleries in Seattle. During the late 70's and early 80's Felter was also researching and producing a film on the Shipibo Indians in the upper Amazon region of Peru. The aesthetic of this indigenous population had a great impact on his art,which can be seen in several of his artistamps. He was also contacted in this period by Michael Bidner, with whom he corresponded about the theory and activity of artists' use of the postage stamp format. Michael coined the term 'artistamp,' and planned to publish an all-encompassing catalogue of the medium, which he unfortunately did not live to complete.
Early in 1985, Felter attended the Historical Mail-Art/Night Exercise Meeting in New York. Also in attendance at this meeting were Buster Cleveland, Ed Higgins III, Ken Friedman, Carlo Pittore, J. P. Jacob, JimKlein, Fernand Barbot, Mark Block, John Evans, and Peter R. Meyer, producer of the Night Exercise radio shows, who was visiting from Sweden. Later in '85, after 16 years as director and curator of the SFU Gallery, Felter resigned his post to pursue his own art and interests. He returned to South America and worked for a time as the International Representative on a private art foundation in Quito, Ecuador. After returning to Vancouver in the late 80's, the idea for a new look at artistamp activity was brewing, spurred by his contact with stamp makers Anna Banana and Ed Varney in Vancouver, Dogfish in Seattle, and another with Higgins who had come to Seattle for the opening of Chew's exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. During that visit, Felter met with Sam Davidson to discuss a proposed exhibit of artistamps in his gallery.
In July of '89, another major pow-wow took place in Seattle, when Higgins came out for the opening of his Firecracker Paintings at the Davidson, and plans (underway since Dec. of '88) for the first International Invitational Artistamp Exhibition were completed. It was for the poster ofthis exhibit, that the Karl Schwezig stamp art was produced as a stamp edition. The show opened December 6th, with all the Vancouver and Seattle stamp-makers in attendance. Felter curated 2nd and 3rd Biennials of the International Artistamp Exhibit at the Davidson Galleries in '91 and '93, but the Davidson opted to discontinued the series after that, although they continue to retain a large collection of artistamps in their print drawers, and there has been some talk of their curating a more "commercially viable" exhibition sometime in the future.
In 1990, Felter turned his massive database on the world of artistamps (creators, publications, exhibitions, catalogues and producers) into the International Directory of Artistamp Creators. In 1994, a revised, refined and updated 2nd edition was produced which covers a 20 year period of his involvement. He plans to continue updating artist Jas' Writings as he receives information, but new information about shows, catalogues, etc. will have to wait for a possible 3rd edition.
In the meantime, Felter plans to devote more time to his painting and the expansion of his World Wide Web site. Called Jas Cyberspace Museum, it is sponsored by a computer software company and includes galleries devoted to his own computer works which continue his early interest in using light as a medium. A third gallery is devoted to exhibiting a collection of scanned artistamps and "cyberstamps," by a selection of international artists. There are also excerpts from the International Directory of Artistamp Creators and copies of previously published articles by Felter in the Museum's Library.
In spite of his concentration collecting and documenting data on the artistamp movement, and organizing exhibitions, several of which have been omitted from this overview, Felter has also produced a number of his own stamp editions, and it is these that illustrate this article.
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