Postcard Art: A true obsession

Does the size of the artwork effect it’s impact?

If you can’t make it good, make it big. If you can’t make it big, make it red.”

– unknown

I feel like I once knew who said this. I want to say Chuck Close, but perhaps even he was quoting someone else. 

Alexander Bridge, 2013

Any who, this saying has stuck in my head for the last 14 years! I was obsessed with creating large artworks throughout College, and in the beginning year of University. 

It’s all well and good putting everything you have into a canvas that may grace a wall just once in your academic career when you’re young, and it’s not costing you anything! After many years of creating large crap artworks that would either fester in my mam’s garage, or end up on the skip; I finally realised that I was being obnoxiously loud and unrealistically decadent in my use of materials. 

I had only sold several large pieces, but far many more have been subject to years of neglect in terribly damp conditions becoming warped and rotting away. Going big was starting to lose it’s lustre.

Skyrise, 2018

I have always kept sketchbooks, and drawn on anything that was to hand. I think I have around 30 or so of these handmade books, also growing old and going mouldy against a damp wall in the studio. (I really should sort that out!)

So, I first started creating postcard sized artworks around 10 years ago. As a natural progression out of the books. I liked the idea of postcard and mail art that you actually send to people across the world. Art that the postman sees inadvertently as he delivers it. 

The other thing about creating small artworks is that they are much easier to store and take care of. The advent if high quality scanning has also meant that if I really want to create the original designs as large scale works, that I can simply do that digitally. I also like the idea of blowing the postcards and instant photography up so they are ridiculously over scale. I can reframe the interesting parts and make multitudes of new works starting from a single image. I can reproduce the originals and work into them again, cut them up, deconstruct and reconstruct. The possibilities are infinite.

Lighthouse, 2018

I have exhibited in several postcard exhibitions in the UK, and almost all of my projects in the last 10 years have included postcard artworks. They are the perfect things to make when the weather is too cold for me to be in the studio. I have gotten into the habit of scanning every small piece that I create. It uses a lot of memory, but hey, digital memory is cheap! I don’t feel pressured when I create small artworks, because they are individual pieces I can decide whether they are good enough to explore further, or whether they should be consigned to the sketchbook arena. Small art is liberating!

I am currently loaded with flu and haven’t been making much this week. Except for a few glorious postcards! Well, I didn’t newly create them. I looked through older pieces that I have made around the subject of the City of Sunderland. I’m going to sign and mount 100 of each as limited editions to drop off with some of the businesses on the coast. I make artwork all of the time. It has always been a compulsion. I get itchy when I haven’t created something. In my mind it is better to create something that is useless than to create nothing at all. Apathy is humanity’s biggest downfall. (Hence, writing this nonsense whilst knee deep in Lemsip!) 

Cityscape, 2014

So, I am waiting on the delivery of these 4 initial designs. I’m thinking that the art should be as democratic as possible. Affordable. Like a kid should be able to buy one with their pocket money kind of democratic. Postcards are amazing for this. They feel jewel-like and precious, yet entirely accessible. Working as a participatory artist has seeped through into everything else I do. Who is my audience? Everyone. You can buy a piece of art for less than 10 squid. And, not IKEA trash or pompous minimalism, proper pieces that I actually made, signed, and packed.

When I look back on to different areas of art history there are many people who incorporated their art or sketches in to the correspondences that they had with other people. I think this is indicative of the fact that art in it’s many guises is usually a vocation. Most people aren’t in it for the rub. If they are then they have in fact already transitioned in to becoming the “Brand”. I understand that it’s useful for fiscal gain to have a name that carries weight, and that your brand is your bond, but I’ve always felt that the business side of selling the artwork is actually the most annoying. Most artists will agree, making the work is so much nicer than peddling it!

Airshow, 2013

I would really love to create some extraordinarily large pieces of work, and I am going to have another run at large scale printing in the darkroom really soon. The weather has been wet and cold being Winter, and in my first attempt for the #wearexperimenting project last year showed me that warmth would be a general benefit to the process.

Photographic chemicals tend to work better at around 20 degrees celsius. My large scale trays are approximately A0 in size. They are also around 5cm deep which makes them an impossible thing to move without at least one other body, and preferably 2. Each tray took around 3 litres of chemical solution. It was fun, but insanely challenging in the physical sense. But, that’s a challenge for another day when I don’t feel so crap.

In answer to the original question posited; it’s not the size of your piece (artwork), but what you do with it that counts. Small can be awesome too.

The day it rained fish, 2013

I’ll add the limited edition postcards to the shop soon. To check out my other designs go to http://johowellart.com

Most of my works are listed with 3 different sizes, they are printed and delivered by Printspace and come with a limited edition certificate.

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