I first met John Held Jr. (the mail artist, not the 1920’s illustrator) at the SF Center for the Book in 2005. I was part of the co-ordination and installation crew for the “Multiplicity for Millions” show: an extravaganza of old and new rubber stamps pulled from the collections of L. Scott Helmes and Picasso Gaglione, which highlighted the history of rubber stamping through the ages. Back in ’05, I was just getting my feet wet in the SF mail art culture, didn’t really know any of the “who’s who” mail artists around town yet. Oh sure, I had heard of Stamp Art Gallery/Stamp Francisco, west coast versions of NYCS dinners, and knew that there was a Network of SF mail artists. I just hadn’t gotten into the swing of SF-style mail art networking at that point; I was sending stuff halfway around the world, but had yet to meet folks in my own backyard. But on the night of the opening, surrounded by mail artists and rubber stampers and book arts people, my friend Steve Woodall mentioned that I should meet Held. “He’s got an old style perforator in his garage,” Steve told me. “I think you guys might get along.”
John Held Jr. is easily one of the most vocal and passionate advocates of mail art and artistamps in the community today. Armed with a MLS in Information Studies and having a formidable background in modern art, this is a man who can easily talk about the use of rubber stamps during the French Resistance or the latest trends in masked Mexican wrestling. It’s all up for grabs, so the best thing to do is just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Networking since 1975, he has met and been influenced by some of the “greats”: Ray Johnson, John Cage, Dick Higgins, George Maciunas (to name a bare minimum). He has traveled around the globe – Europe, the Ukraine, Japan, back and forth across the US – to meet other mail artists, give lectures, and curate shows.
This has been a banner year for Held, as far as introducing the general public to mail art is concerned: in April, he curated a mail art show at the Stendal Gallery in NYC. As part of the Black Mountain College’s “Re-Viewing Black Mountain College 2” conference which takes place this weekend, he has curated a mail art show (Ray Johnson was a BMC grad) and will present a lecture titled “BMC to DiY: Mail Art Exhibition & Curator’s Talk”. And last, but not least, there is tomorrow night’s opening here in San Francisco.
“40 Years of Debris From the Cultural Underground” pulls from Held’s extensive archive of mail art, zines, fluxus objects, and artistamps. Evergold Gallery is hosting the show, which will be up through the month of October. From the gallery’s press release: “Held’s interest in the diffusion of open cultural participation over long distances through DIY practice led to active involvement in the fields of mail art, rubber stamps, and zines. Aspects of these fields, as well as Held’s involvement with them, are presented in this retrospective exhibition blending art and life over a forty year period.”
Well. That sounds pretty awesome to me. Mail art, zines, and rubber stamps?
What more does a girl need, really?
And take a look at the artists included (also from Evergold’s info): “Local artists included in the exhibition (via Held’s collection) include the late David Ireland, Tom Marioni, Bay Area Dada (Tim Mancusi, Marlon Vito Picasso, and Monte Cazazza, among others ), Charles Gatewood, Greg Edwards, Wanxin Zhang, Harley, Jokie X. Wilson, Jennie Hinchcliff, Mike Dickau, and Alice So.”
I’ll see you at the opening tomorrow night! Come up and say “howdy” and I bet I’ll have a special something to give to you!
PS: take a look at the “Classes & Sightings” page for a full list of events scheduled to take place throughout the run of the show…