About this mail art blog

This mail art blog re-circulates Ray Johnson's Follow Instructions Below. Originally published in the November 1971 issue of Arts Magazine, it was a "mailing event" cleverly devised by the artist in which recipients are asked to alter or add to a photocopy of Rimbaud.

April 21, 2010

From: Ben M.

After a short break, The "New" New York Correspondence School is back in session. Stay tuned for future posts like this week's masterpiece.

Ben M. took Rimbaud beyond conventional media like drawing and used photography. After cutting the photocopy of Rimbaud into a mask, Ben then handed it over to a friend. As the friend put the mask up to his face, Ben picked up his camera and caught this playful moment. I love how the final work makes me stop for a minute to think out the composition: what's really going on here? who is that man? where is he? what's he hiding behind? what's with the tongue? why does the OJ Simpson glove take up one third of the photograph?

Ben M. teaches us that a little bit of mystery can go a long way. My favorite part about the photograph is how Rimbaud's features are barely visible: they only resonate as gray details like his nostrils, eyebrows, and left ear on the bright white paper. Brilliant work!

March 11, 2010

From: Gant P.

Gant P. served up a whole lot of sex for The "New" New York Correspondence School. This man reeks of sex, of whiskey, of cheap cologne, of cigarettes. All things naughty and nice. I find his smoldering eyes, his perfect pout, and his tousled hair simply irresistible. Gant P. inscribed his portrait of Rimbaud with the words, "If looks could kill, you'd all be dead." No truer words could have been spoken because wow, this new and improved Rimbaud has killer looks.

When I asked Gant P. for the story behind the man, he admitted that the portrait sublimated his nostalgia for Baltimore's seedy culture, especially for the one-of-a-kind characters like gender-benders, drag queens, and pimps who haunt the local watering holes there. And Gant P. certainly did his own gender-bender-ing for the mail art: "I think what sparked it was how androgynous Rimbaud looks in that particular picture," he explained, "I suppose it's because he was young when the photo was taken, but he really looks like a cute lesbian." Way to butch up the French poet.

For more of Gant P.'s delicious art concoctions, please check out his blog.

February 22, 2010

From: Chris G.

The wonderful artist, Chris G., has supplied the next mail art entry. Playful yet prophetic, it packs quite a visual punch.

I love this one because it's layered like a lovely joke onion -- as you peel away a layer, you discover a pun. He affixed various measuring devices onto Rimbaud which cover his eyes, nose, and mouth. Upon closer inspection, the three circular forms turn out to be the faces of a chronograph watch: the 12-hour, the minute or second hand, and 30-day. Get it?! The faces of the clock create Rimbaud's face. The clocks are giving him face! I also giggled when I realized that the clocks were "red-handed."

In the bottom right corner of the work, a message reads:

"Weave got all the thyme in the world..."

Cryptic, yes; yet, it's fun to try to decode. This mail art begs us to question how we measure the world. By rulers? By clocks? Yes, perhaps here, "time/thyme" is the clue. Do you measure your life by time? Or, measure it by thyme, the spice? The spice of life?! Yes. That's at least how I want my life to measured: by its spiciness.

One of Ray Johnson's favorite pastimes was aestheticizing and philosophizing the absurd. And in this way, Chris G. has created a perfect homage to the late great. Thank you, Chris! Amazing job!

February 11, 2010

From: Charlotte L.

Rimbaud à la drag! Loves it; but of course, it's more than that.

For the sixth contribution to The "New" New York Correspondence School, Charlotte L. cleverly transformed the androgynous features of Rimbaud into one of the most iconic faces of the last century: Marilyn Monroe. It's amusing to see the emaciated poet revamped as a sex symbol. I am also delighted to see that for this project, Charlotte L. pulled from her treasure trove of burlesque costumes and attached a flashy pair of red eyelashes. They are a great touch because they definitely give the piece an extra something as well as adding a wonderfully three dimensional element to the page.

To further Rimbaud's transformation, Charlotte L. recreated Marilyn Monroe's trademark look by highlighting his hair yellow and adding her signature beauty mark. Her mail art inevitably references Andy Warhol's screen prints of the blond bombshell. While his mass-produced images are some of the most celebrated images of Monroe, I prefer Charlotte L.'s Rimbaud-Monroe concoction. Because Warhol utilized mass production techniques, I believe this in turn created a gaping distance between the creator and the created. Inversely, Charlotte L. got up close and personal with Rimbaud. For the final touch, she applied red lipstick over Rimbaud's lips by kissing him. And how could you not love mail art that has been sealed with a kiss?!

January 26, 2010

From: Becky S.

Brought to you by the mischievous mind of Becky S. and the magic of Crayola Crayons!

Using what appears to be crayon and sharpie, this artist created a wonderful scene set against blue sky by potting some lovely ferns in Rimbaud's eyes as well as outlining his portrait and adding a pair of animated hands.

I am interested here in the tension between the playfulness of the piece (interpreted from the use of crayon and cartoonish drawing style) and the ambiguous pose of Rimbaud (is he gripping his own face or mugging for the camera?).

Most importantly, I love Becky S.'s equation for this drawing:

SIMPLE MEDIA (black pen, crayon) +

EXCELLENT EXECUTION (mad drawing skills!) =


January 20, 2010

From: God (aka Emily G.)

I knew from the get-go that this project would be something special. But I really had no clue that it would the attract likes of God. Yes, that's right, God has participated in this mailing event. I even have proof. When I received this in the mail, the sender's name was written in bold red marker as "God."

It opened to quite a work with a lovely note attached to the back of it. It read, "Dear Anna, Though Rimbaud is fantastic, I thought you might like a completely new icon. Fondly, Ms. Emily G." So, it turns out that God also goes by the name of Emily G.

What I love most about this one is that she has indeed been successful in her claims -- that is, to create and contribute a "completely new icon." She began by snipping Rimbaud into strips of paper and then stitched them together with black thread to make a new canvas. After vigorously marking the image with pencil and red and orange marker, she put on the finishing touch: a color photograph of herself, cigarette in hand with a toy cowboy protruding from her pants and a wicked grin.

In the end, God/Emily G. has completely obliterated the image of Rimbaud and put forth her own icon. The irreverence of this piece would make Ray Johnson proud. I certainly am!

(Oh, and to see more fantastic artwork by Emily G., look here!)

January 13, 2010

From: The Mystery Mailer

When I received this Rimbaud in the mail, it came unsigned on both the work of art and the envelope. (Cue dramatic music, please!) Therefore, it's shrouded in mystery and I've dubbed the author, "The Mystery Mailer."

This is a great take in my opinion. It's simple and thought-provoking. After I stopped thinking about who could possibly be the artist (!) and started looking at the image, this famous art quote came to mind:

"A line is a dot that went for a walk." -- Paul Klee

The artist decided that Rimbaud's two pupils would be fitting dots and then let the pen take a walk from there. One dot went for only a quick loop around Rimbaud's eye while the other went on quite the journey, tracing the contours of his face.

Well played, Mystery Mailer, well played.

January 12, 2010

From: Anonymous

Here's the story behind this contribution: When I opened the envelope and was greeted by "Barbarella Face," I immediately realized that either this artist did not understand the project or s/he totally out Ray Johnson-ed Ray Johnson by deciding to throw Rimbaud completely out of the equation and appropriate Johnson's characteristic "bunny" cartoon (as seen on this blog in Follow Below Instructions).

It turns out it was indeed an accident -- but sometimes accidents are the best art. Even though I gave the artist another chance to actually follow the instructions and use the photocopy of Rimbaud, I decided to post this submission because 1. it cracks me up and 2. this artist says I look like Barbarella, so it is a portrait of myself as a Johnson "bunny" cartoon and 3. who can resist that face?!

January 6, 2010

From: Angel G.

This is the first Rimbaud that I received in the mail from my artist friend, Angel G. He cleverly rotated the poet's portrait horizontally and then created an astonishingly detailed Surrealist landscape. I love the idea of turning the psychic space of the head into a melancholic, moonlit landscape through which hooded figures wander aimlessly . Beautiful work! Visit his blog to view more of his wonderful artwork here.