I was pleased to be interviewed by the USPS for an article in there online magazine for stamp collectors. It is beautifully written and interesting article.
Please click here to read the entire article with images.
A collector-turned-artist finds a mesmerizing new use for old stamps
When Jordan Scott bid on a mislabeled box at an estate sale a decade ago, he had no idea that its contents would redirect his course. An avid stamp collector since childhood, Scott opened the box to discover — with delight — that it contained thousands of U.S. postage stamps. After stowing the treasure in his Chicago-area studio, the mixed-media artist mulled over the artistic possibilities that lay in wait, eventually embedding a sheet of stamps into a painting a few weeks later.
Pleased with the effect, Scott began replacing paint with stamps over the course of the following year, until one evening he left his studio with his canvas covered in a grid of roughly 5,000 tiny squares. Intending to use the framework as a backdrop, Scott returned the next morning to a realization. The mosaic of geometric colors was too beautiful to cover. Ten years later, not a drop of paint has touched his canvases, and this almost accidental medium has led him to create four major bodies of work shown and sold in galleries across the country.
Growing up with a painter-sculptor father, Scott began drawing as soon as he could “hold a pencil”; he began his stamp collection, which now totals more than 12 major volumes, around the same time. Scott credits both his uncle — who was living in Cuba and would mail him bags of torn envelope corners — and trips to the stamp counter at Marshall Field’s department store as the foundation for his philatelic curiosity. As an adult, Scott has been passionate about collecting U.S. fancy cancels from the 1930s and earlier, fascinated with unusual hand-cancellation marks made from carved corks.
While he admits he’s recently stopped acquiring, Scott has specific criteria for the stamps that constitute his art. Preferring the color-saturated mono- and duotone printing techniques from the first half of the 20th century, he obtains thousands of multiples of the same stamp — at estate sales and auctions early on, and now mostly through online auction sites like eBay — in order to achieve specific tonal and textural patterns.
Every piece begins with a general palette and a loose pattern, which Scott first pencils onto the canvas. Applying stamps using industrial-strength glue comes next, followed by a topcoat of resin that hardens to a shiny finish. Each piece takes Scott roughly three weeks to complete, but the time frame increases as complexity — hand-cutting stamps into particular shapes, for example — is introduced. The artist works simultaneously on four easels mounted directly onto his studio walls, explaining that shifting between pieces helps his sanity, as he might otherwise drown in the repetitive process.
“I try to go with the flow and be intuitive,” Scott says about his creative process, “but [the pieces] are very rigid. That’s both a pro and a con, because I like control.” There’s a yin-yang quality to the precise panels, as there is to Scott: His lifetime of martial-arts training influences the structure and discipline he imposes upon the canvas. By establishing certain patterns as boundaries to work inside, Sensei Scott conjures order out of chaos, assimilating postage from various places and times into composed harmonies.
These works beg the question: Does Scott feel a twinge of guilt in “destroying” stamps for his art? As the types of issuances he uses are typically produced in huge quantities, rather than being rare specimens that are valuable to collectors, Scott has no misgivings. Rather, he hopes these pieces, born out of his desire to make art and an admiration for the beauty of stamp-making, will delight and provoke others, whether or not they appreciate stamps like he does. Plus, collectors have responded positively to the dazzling mosaics, he says. Though aware of the potential offense, they are touched by the way the individual works of art are carefully repurposed, even elevated.
In fact, this act of destruction (as some might see it) is actually a reincarnation: A new life for old stamps that asks us to appreciate not only the beauty, but the interconnectivity, that stamps symbolize. As objects shared both intimately through individual correspondence and publicly across geographies and generations, stamps are at once personal and universal. Scott recognizes this duality, claiming that the unifying power he feels exists between those yin-yang opposing forces — indeed, between all things past, present, and future — also exists in his pieces’ mandala-like qualities. Viewers meditating upon the almost-mathematical mazes can lose themselves in the thousands of parts that seamlessly form a whole.
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