M-L: When did you first discover you were psychic?
DK: I didn’t realize it was anything unusual until later in life. As a child, I was quiet and found talking tedious. I preferred talking telepathically, and it took me a long time to realize that other people couldn’t understand me as I mumbled through fingers while sucking my thumb.
M-L: How did you get involved in the mail art network?
DK: I began doing very informal collage about 20 years ago using only items I had on hand or was given such as international stamps, string, sand and specialty papers. A friend asked me, ‘So you can make something from anything you have on hand?’ We were in a bar at the time, and he challenged me to make him something out of the items we had in front of us. I gathered the matchbooks, coasters, napkins, etc. I took them all home after peeling the beer label off. I loved the challenge. I had been almost exclusively doing photography before this and had several shows in Arizona, Colorado and the Netherlands – Ruud Janssen’s hometown in the Netherlands, in fact.
I saw a show in Chicago where someone had incorporated photo transfer into their collages, and I knew I had to learn how to achieve that effect. They had also made frames for their pieces out of haphazardly joined sticks. I was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and began looking for art groups specific to photo transfer. I was also scouring the listings for art submissions in the area.
I came across an ad, a small classified ad in a local paper, that said, ‘Seeking mail art submissions.’ Then it gave a link to learn what mail art was. This happened around 2003, and I believe it was an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. I was intrigued and immediately began working on my submission. I took a large envelope and printed my photos all over the outside. I wrote, ‘This is art because I say it is’ and ‘There is nothing inside.’ I sent it and received documentation back only to discover they had used my piece on the [catalog] cover.
“I wrote, ‘This is art because I say it is’ and ‘There is nothing inside.’ I sent it and received documentation back only to discover they had used my piece on the [catalog] cover.”
Needless to say, I was hooked and ecstatic to find a name for something I had always been doing: letter writing, making decorated envelopes, etc. I went to boarding school, so written correspondence was my lifeline. I made an envelope once by spray painting it pink and called it, ‘My mother in her favorite pink dress.’ I also have an aunt who loved letter-writing. She was known to write her letters in shapes, for example one big spiral.
Visual poetry collabs by Diane Keys and John M. Bennett
M-L: Mail art is often associated with DaDa, Fluxus and conceptual art. Many have noted an avant strain in your work. You have collaborated successfully with legendary experimentalists such as John M. Bennett, Ficus strangulensis and Andrew Topel. Did you ever or do you now consider yourself an artist who is challenging traditional art, an iconoclastic or experimental artist?
DK: Traditional ways of doing things have never really resonated with me. I had a very non-traditional upbringing and have always been a very abstract, non-linear thinker. I am more interested in the process and exploration of creativity than anything. I have always spoken and written in a stream-of-consciousness, associative manner like the [Rain Rien] Nevermind and others who love wordplay. Before becoming active at IUOMA [International Union of Mail Artists), I had just had my found object art show. It was the culmination of a solid year of collecting trash. I made a point of not altering any of it. I had multiple canvases and arranged the garbage like puzzles, then glued it all down.
“I have always spoken and written in a stream-of-consciousness, associative manner like the [Rain Rien] Nevermind and others who love wordplay.”
Making art is a very unconscious process for me, and that is what I love about it. I am not good at, say, setting out to create a literal or representational depiction of something. If I was given crayons and a coloring book, I would most likely peel off the crayon wrappers or paint by melting the crayons. It took me a long time to be okay with this.
I spent a long time making ‘pretty’ art but at some point completely abandoned that in lieu of what is known as anti-art, outsider art, and fringe art. Doing so did not seem to grant me any more respect, until I posted my pieces at IUOMA. I had several artists ask if they could use my art as an example in their art workshops and classes. When I first began doing collage, a friend told me about an artist who also used found objects such as greasy burger wrappers. That artist was anti-art God Kurt Schwitters. ‘Painting’ with garbage, reducing it to textures, lines, and angles as though looking from peripheral vision, excites me. Often, the thing that most reads ‘art supplies’ is the mail art envelopes and packaging. I love torn bits of tape, the ink from stamped images and cancelled stamps.
To be continued…
Mail art performance collab by Diane Keys and Ficus strangulensis (2012)