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The term artistamp (a portmanteau of the words "artist" and "stamp") or artist's stamp refers to a postage stamp-like artform used to depict or commemorate any subject its creator chooses. Artistamps are a form of Cinderella stamps in that they are not valid for postage, but they differ from forgeries or bogus stamps in that typically the creator has no intent to fool postal authorities or stamp collectors. Some artists working in the artistamp medium, however, such as Michael Hernandez de Luna and Michael Thompson, make the goal of passing off their stamps as postage (and thereby obtaining the endorsement of postal authorities in the form of a cancellation) as an important aspect of the artistic process.

Depending on how the stamp is used, it may be difficult to distinguish artistamps from local post stamps.

Irony, satire, humor, eroticism and subversion of government authority are frequent characteristics of artistamps.


The first artist to produce an "artist’s stamp" is open to interpretation. Fine artists were certainly commissioned to create poster stamps (advertising posters in collectible stamp form) from the late 1800s, but none appear to have worked with the format outside the commercial or advertising context.

In 1919, Dadaist Raoul Hausmann affixed a self-portrait postage stamp to a postcard, but given that Dada was determinedly anti-art (at least in theory), calling this an "artist’s stamp" seems almost counterintuitive.

Germanmarker artist Karl Schwesig, while a political prisoner during World War II, drew a series of pseudo-stamps on the blank, perforated margins of postage stamp sheets, using coloured inks. Jas Felter asserts that this 1941 series, which illustrated life in a concentration camp, is the first true set of artist's stamps.

Robert Watts, a member of the Fluxus group, became the first artist to create a full sheet of [faux] postage stamps within a fine art context when he produced a perforated block of 15 stamps combining popular and erotic imagery in 1961.

Canadian multimedia artist and philatelist T Michael Bidner, who made his life's work the cataloguing of all known artist's stamps, coined the word "artistamp" in 1982. It quickly became the term of choice amongst mail artists.

Artist Clifford Harper published a series of designs for anarchist postage stamps in 1988, featuring portraits of Shelley, Emma Goldman, Oscar Wilde, Emiliano Zapata and Herbert Read.

In 1999 documentation artist Rosemary Gahlinger-Beaune together with Giovanni Bianchini, program analyst, released "The World of Artistamps", an encyclopedic CD-ROM depicting over 10,0000 artistamp images, and defined the medium and genre of Artistamps.

Recognition of the art form

Despite the exhibitions, history, number of artists and global sweep of the artistamp movement, the concept had long been ignored by major institutions and derided by the arts establishment: before his death in 1989, Bidner attempted to donate his definitive collection to several major Canadian institutions but was turned down by every one. The collection eventually went to Artpool, an art research centre in Budapestmarker, Hungarymarker. Upon his death, Bidner's friend Rosemary Gahlinger-Beaune, undertook Bidner's vision and began to catalogue, using philatelic standards, artistamps from over 200 artists from 29 countries, documenting more than 10,0000 artistamp images. In 1999, Gahlinger-Beaune and Bianchini released a CD entitled "The World of Artistamps", the most comprehensive database of artistamps of the time.

Multimedia artist James Warren "Jas" Felter curated an exhibition called Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images at Simon Fraser Gallery, Simon Fraser Universitymarker, Canadamarker, in 1974: the first exhibition to acknowledge the stamp as an artistic medium. This collection, which toured Europe and America for the next ten years, led to an explosion in the number of artists using stamps as an artistic format.

Photographer and multimedia artist Ginny Lloyd started her Gina Lotta Post series in 1979 and by 1982 had produced some of the first computer generated imagery used in artists stamps. On a visit to Artpool in 1982, she collaborated with György Galántai on artistamp issues. During an Art in Space event she co-organized in 1984, held in San Francisco, California a rocket containing artistamps on a microchip was launched. In 1986 the artist received a Visual Studies Workshop artist-in-residence funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States. Her project for the residency was the creation of artist stamps as part of her Gina Lotta Post series. The project culminated into an artist book titled Gina Lotta Post printed in four color offset with a series of artistamp postcards.

In 1989, Felter curated the first of three International Biannual Exhibitions of Artistamps at Davidson Galleries in Seattlemarker.

In 1995, Patricia Tavenner curated The First California Artistamp Exhibit at University of California, Berkeley - San Francisco Extension. The exhibit presented works of about 170 artists from around the world.

The First Moscow International Artistamp Exhibition was held in Moscow in December 1998, as part of International Art Fair XX. The event was curated by Natalie Lamanova, Alexander Kholopv and Jas Felter. This event gave rise to the "Moscow Artistamp Collection" which presently includes more than 700 works of 83 artists from 19 countries.

From November 12, 1999 to January 19, 2000, the Art Institute of Boston hosted the "Stamp Art and Artists Stamps" exhibition. The show included artistamp sheets from Natalia Lamanova, Alexander Kholopov of Russia, Vittore Baroni, Clemente Padin, Jose Carlos Soto, Pere Sousa and Donald Evans. PBS documented this exhibit.

February - March 2000: Moscow artists Ivan Kolesnikov and Sergei Denisov presented a joint Artistamp project entitled Azbuka Veka (The Alphabet of the Century) at the S’ART Gallery in Moscow. The show presented stamps of famous people tagged with letters from the Russian alphabet.

In December, 2000, an exhibit featuring artistamps from around the world was displayed at the E. Max von Isser Gallery of Art at Elgin Community College, Elgin, Illinois.

The exhibition Motherland/Fatherland was held at The International Museum Exhibition Centre in Moscow from July 11 to 21, 2002. The event was curated by Natalie Lamanova, Alexander Kholopv and Jas Felter. Presented there were works by 44 artists from Russia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Korea, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Venezuela, Armenia and the United States.

The Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, California hosted the exhibit Post Modern Post: International Artistamps in April 2003. The show including the work of 50 artists from 15 countries.

In 2005, The exhibition Axis of Evil opened at The Nexus Gallery, Philadelphia in March, 2005, and later traveled to Chicago and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Curated by Chicago-based artist Michael Hernandez de Luna, the exhibit featured 127 works by 47 stamp artists from 11 countries. It originated with the publication of the book Axis of Evil: Perforated Praeter Naturam, published by Qualiatica Press.

In the spring of 2007, the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts hosted a successful exhibition entitled ParaStamp: Four Decades of Artistamps, from Fluxus to the Internet. Curated by György Galántai, the exhibition presented approximately 500 works selected from the archive of the Artpool Art Research Centre. More than 250 of the most important artists working in the artistamp genre were represented, including Natalie Lamanova, Anna Banana, Ed Varney, Guy Bleus, Twine Workshop, Michael Hernandez de Luna, Steve Smith, Vittore Baroni, Robert Watts, H.R. Fricker, Ryosuke Cohen, Ginny Lloyd, and Al Brandtner. "The new function artistamp has in this exhibition is to convey the explosively changing worldview at the turn of the millennium," said Galántai in an interview. The show ran from March 23 to June 24, 2007.

In July 2007, the SomArts Cultural Center gallery presented the Multiplicity/Multiplicidad: Mailart & Artistamp Show, in collaboration with Vortice Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen assembled the Queen and Country exhibition comprising stamps depicting British servicemen and women killed in Iraq. The exhibition was hosted at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh between December 3, 2008 and February 15, 2009.

David Krueger's series of pseudo-stamps critiquing the Bush administration, begun in 2001, was on view at the CUE Art Foundation in Chelsea, Manhattanmarker, New York, from April 24 - May 31, 2008.

Artistamps have been recognized in mainstream stamp publications, such as Linn's Stamp News.


In 2005, United States Secret Service agents attended the opening of the Axis of Evil exhibition at Columbia College Chicago's Glass Curtain Gallery. According to Carol Ann Brown, director of the gallery, the agents were most interested in the work entitled "Patriot Act" by Chicago-based artist Al Brandtner. The work depicts a revolver pointed at the head of then President George W. Bush. Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur stated, "We need to ensure... that this is nothing more than artwork with a political statement."

When the exhibit opened at a gallery on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus on September 15, 2005, university chancellor Bruce Shepard unilaterally directed the removal of Brandtner's work from the gallery. In a letter to faculty and staff, Shepard said "in a society all too violence prone, using these or other venues to appear to advocate or suggest assassination is not something the UW-Green Bay may do." About 30 demonstrators protested the chancellor's suppression of artistic expression and political commentary.

The artistamp creation process

Artistamps are created uniquely or in limited editions. Artistamps have been produced as multiples of one design per sheet; a multitude of designs per page; as miniature sheets with a decorative or inclusive border; in booklets; or any combination/size/shape the artist chooses.

Artists who regularly use the form often create fantasy stamps for their own imaginary "postal administrations" or countries – in many cases developing or complementing an entire "governmental system" – and their subjects may reflect personal interests, from the political to the fantastic. Artistamp creators often include their work on legitimate mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art. In many countries this is legal, provided the artistamp doesn't pretend to be, or is unlikely to be mistaken for, a legal postage stamp. When so combined (and sometimes, less strictly speaking, even when not so) the artistamp is part of the mail art genre.

Techniques for the creation of artistamps may or may not include perforating the boundaries of the piece to resemble a traditional gummed stamp, as well as applying gum to the reverse side of the paper. Self-adhesive artistamps have also been made; however, this type of adhesive may not be archival. Whole sheets of such stamps are often made at one time. The artwork may be hand-drawn or painted, lithographed or offset-printed, photographed, photocopied, etched, engraved, silk-screened, rubber stamped, or produced on a digital printer. As with the design, the production method is entirely the choice of the artist.

For artists who wish to produce their own artistamps, the personal computer is a godsend: inexpensive colour printing, in small or large runs, is ideally suited to artistamp production. It's no coincidence that the early '70s explosion in artistamp creation paralleled the development and widespread use of colour photocopiers.

Makers of artistamps sometimes apply cancellation to them when they are applied to covers; first day of issue covers for artistamps exist.

The rise of the Internet has seen the development of a new concept in artistamps: cyberstamps, designed specifically to be viewed online (often sent with e-mails) and never intended to be printed. Cyberstamps also allow the use of animated imagery.

Artists working in the stamp art medium often employ fixed-line perforators as part of the creation process. Most functional and popular (though often difficult to find) are manually-operated, foot-powered machines manufactured beginning in the 1880s by bindery equipment makers like F.P Rosback Co. and Latham Machinery Co. Other methods of producing perforations for artistamps have generally proven unsatisfactory. Such alternative methods used include using sewing machines, sewing pounces, leather punches, veterinary needles, and speciality scissors.

In 2005 and 2006, a machinist operating under the name "Dr. Arcane" manufactured about 20 "Whizbang" perforators. These table-top devices worked well, but were reportedly fragile.

In 2004, the International Brotherhood of Perforator Workers (IBPW), an organization based in Washington D.C., was established to represent the interests of artists owning and/or operating perforators in the creation of stamp art.

Artistamp creators

Creators of artistamps include Donald Evans, Anna Banana, Patricia Tavenner, Jas W Felter, Ginny Lloyd, Michael Bidner, Michael Hernandez de Luna, Michael Thompson, Ed Paschke, Clifford Harper, Al Brandtner, Steve Smith, Russell Butler (buZ blurr), Alan Brignull, Dennis Jordan, Rachel Scott, Guy Bleus, Harley, Marlon Vito Picasso, Kursade Karatas, Bruce Grenville, Natalie Lamanova, Robert Rudine, H.R. Fricker, John Rininger, Slava Vinogradov, John Held Jr., Mike Dickau, John Langford, Matthew Rose, Vittore Baroni, Eiichi Matsuhashi, Ivan Kolenikov, the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, and Sergej Denisov.

Publishers have been known to jump on the artistamp bandwagon: Mad Magazine included perforated, gummed stamps in a few issues. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, released The 1990 Doonesbury Stamp Album through Penguin in 1990; this album contained a large number of perforated, gummed stamps featuring characters and settings from Doonesbury. Another example is a series of Ankh-Morpork stamps created to publicise the Discworld novel Going Postal; the stamps proved so popular that more Discworld stamps are planned.

Purchase and collection

For the collector, artistamps can be purchased via the internet, either through on-line auctions or direct from artists or other collectors. Many artistamp creators swap their creations with other practitioners of the form, either directly or within the broader concept of mail art.

See also


  1. John Held, Jr., Robert Watts: The Complete Postage Stamp Sheets, 1961-1986
  2. Peter Frank, Postal Modernism: Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images
  3. John Held, Jr., ibid.
  4. James W. Felter, Artistamps: Francobolli d’artista, Italy, 2000
  5. György Galántai, Thomas Michael Bidner (1944-1989): A Commemorative Exhibition
  6. Russian Journal, Feb. 13, 2000 "Stamping Symbols into Russian ABC"
  7. Daliy Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.), listing, December 6, 2000
  8. San Francisco Chronicle, He puts his stamp on his artwork, March 28, 2003
  9. Columbia College Press Office, Stamp Artists Exhibit Interpret Sin for 21st Century
  10. Scotland on Sunday, Stamps of war dead on show
  11. Art Daily, April 16, 2005
  12. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, September 30, 2005

External links

  • Jas Cyberspace Museum – Jas Felter’s website, which includes the International Directory of Artistamp Creators, an artistamp gallery and an archive of articles on the medium.

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