One April day
in 2000 Bill Gaglione and I met up at the
Rubberama stamping convention in San Jose, California. Bill was there with
his wife, Darlene Domel and their demo artist, Barbara De Lap, representing
Stampland, the company they started in 1998. You may know of Bill from his
previous company, Stamp Francisco. I had been told that Bill was the one to
ask if I was curious about the beginnings of the mail art movement.
The mail art network really started with the Dada
movement in 1916 in Zürich by anti-establishment artists and writers. Apparently
the term "dada," the French word for hobbyhorse, was selected at random from a
dictionary by the Romanian-born poet, essayist, and editor Tristan Tzara. The
Dadaists were the counter-culture of their day and would write manifestos and
create artistic works which were deliberately incomprehensible to the public at
large. Since many of them were from other countries and they sometimes had to
move to take refuge from the war, the Dadaists quite often maintained their
network by mail. It was a way for them to stay in touch in those dark times.
illustrate how "dada lives" Bill gave me a book chronicling a show in Paris in
which he participated. The entire book is made up of pages of single, red
shapes. Bill stamped each page with items he found in the streets. The point of
the exhibition was not to be aesthetically pleasing in any way. Quite the
opposite, the point was to make the viewer reevaluate her points of reference
and consider as art something that she might not have considered previously.
"Anything can be art. Anybody can be an
artist, a musician or a poet." -- Bill Gaglione
Although Dadaism had declined since the
1920s, there was a revival in the 1960s with the Fluxus group in New York
City. In the mid '60s Bill was influenced by a Dadaist art professor named
Joseph Raphael at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. Bill and several
friends including Mae Wilson and Ray Johnson started the New York
Correspondence School, which wasn't a school at all but a group of
hundreds of mail art social activists from countries as far flung as
Czechoslovakia, South America, Italy, Hungary, Brazil and more, how
dada-esque. Bill has remained true to his dada beginnings and continues to
espouse the anti-establishment mentality and the belief in the goodness of
humanity that epitomizes the movement. His work has been shown at many
shows all over the world (most decidedly not mainstream).
"Bill started the stamping industry, is
a well respected and very nice guy." -- Beth Wilts
Bill's love of stamping actually started a long
time before ideas about anti-establishment, incomprehensible art and social
ethics were part of his belief system. When he was a kid his mother gave him a
Stewart Superior set of 5 Popeye stamps. He still has it to this day and it's in
his extensive collection of stamp sets and memorabilia.
display part of that collection, Bill, Charles Chickadel and John Held,
Jr. have started a virtual museum on the Internet which includes a gift
shop, gallery showings from artists in 20 countries, a display of about
100 boxed sets (including Bill's beloved Popeye set), a commercial
gallery containing items such as antique bottles of ink, a stamp art
gallery and several articles and books written through the years by people
in the mail art and stamping communities.
you roam around the museum you will find that, while stamps and other
things are available for purchase (and currently offered at a discount),
that really isn't the point of the site. The museum directors love art for
art's sake and want to share that love with the world.
"Bill Gaglione is the "Grand Da Da" of
the rubber stamping world! He was cool before stamping was.
Bill has turned-on thousands of people to the world of stamping, 'zines
and performance art and is one of the most generous souls I have had the
pleasure of knowing." -- Janet Hofacker
As much as anyone can be in a group of
anarchists, Bill is a major force in the mail art network and has an
extensive list of artists all over the world with whom he corresponds. A
tour through their house is a treat for the eyes as well as an education
in the history of the mail art movement. Even though Bill and Darlene are
moving to Chicago in June, I'm quite sure that the people whose lives
they've touched will happily update their address books. After the move
they are planning to open a gallery/store/factory based on Stempelplaat in
Amsterdam. Bill is also working on a book about the history of rubber
stamping which he hopes will be done in 2001. True to the dada spirit it
will be comprised of hand-written and photocopied pages and will be
presented on the Internet.
You can reach Stampland at 773.728.8425