I love receiving Cat Lynch's postcards because they are painstakingly painted, unique objects. They are special as if they were selected and made just for me (or so I'd like to believe). The watercolor paper arrives folded but never torn with a handwritten note on the back. I think about these cards frequently and quizzed Cat on her process.
Jacinda Russell: You are in the minority of Postcard Collective participants who make unique objects en masse. Some of the things I think about when I look at your two submissions, 32 and 30 new paintings of 30 old things, are: your medium of watercolor on paper (I would consider it too valuable a commodity to send unexposed in the mail) and the concept of painting reproductions of paper on paper whether it be paintings of postcards or partial envelopes. Can you discuss your relationship with materials?
Cat Lynch: My reason to make 30 paintings was simply that it was how I worked before the Postcard Collective. When I was accepted into my first exchange, I looked through exchanges from the past and noticed that a large number of participants were photographers who made photographs- from there it seemed to make sense that as painter, I’d make paintings. And if I was going to make 30 anyway, why not 30 that were different? (I should also mention I enjoy pointless challenges, endurance tests and bets with myself.)
As I was making them I found other reasons to keep painting. I love how immediate and unforgiving watercolor is- the moment the brush touches paper a mark’s made that’s fairly permanent. When I used to paint with oils I’d get stuck in feedback loops, going over the same section over and over trying to get it perfect, but with watercolor I’m forced to accept whatever happens. Along that same train of thought, I also love how vulnerable and human watercolors look. Sending something that feels so fragile unexposed in the mail is a bit scary, but in the fun, low-risk sort of scary that I enjoy. Postcards in general are pretty exposed items- your message is open and has the possibility of being touched and read by several anonymous people. After the initial gut-drop of dropping the cards in a big, dirty mailbox, I rather like the idea of these small, highly personal things being passed from person to person.
It’s funny that you mention that both 3o New paintings and 32 are reproductions of paper on paper- I somehow managed to miss this super obvious fact! I started out both thinking of them primarily as collections that had been meticulously assembled and then abandoned. A collector and documenter myself, I felt sad for Margaret Ann Tilly and the anonymous envelope-clipper, and wanted to add importance to their objects- a sort of final commemoration. The only way I knew how to do so was to paint them, since to draw or paint an object I have to look at it intimately and for an extended time- intimacy and time which is then reflected in the marks made on the paper (hopefully).
JR: You are a process based artist (that's an understatement!). How long does it take to paint 30 different postcards? Do you finish one before beginning another? I envision an assembly line of sorts. Anything else you would like to reveal about the production of these?
CL: Yes, if there’s one word I think is accurate to describe my art and my practice, it’s definitely process! My brain runs on kinetic energy- the more I’m moving the more I’m thinking. Process also gives me time and space to find layers of meaning in my work. Back when I used to fancy myself a Painter with a Capital Oil Painting P, I really struggled with making work that meant anything to me- I felt I to come up with an image first and make the painting second, which was really hard for me. (Painters who do this are, I’m pretty sure, wizards.)
The process is somewhat of an assembly line; The production usually begins with an idea that’s either way too boring or way too convoluted. To get past either problem, I start by cutting the paper down to size. It’s usually during this rote activity that I accidentally stumble upon another, more exciting story to add to the original idea. If it’s exciting enough, or simple enough, I start working on the cards individually, finishing the front of one before starting another. Addressing and writing the back are assembly line-like steps that I save for whenever I get stuck or need another rote activity. (With 32, for example, the idea for the text on the back of the cards came while writing out the return addresses).
I usually finish the last postcard a day or two before they’re done. This is in part because painting takes so long, and in part because I work full time, am a chronic overcommiter (In addition to working on the postcards, I usually have one or two other major projects in the works.) and an easily distracted research junkie- (Wikipedia’s link system is best and worst thing to happen to my art practice.. )
JR: I've been very curious about the origin of the tweet written on the back of my 32 entry: "RT@KrisHumphries if this tweet gets 1000 RTs I'll leak the sextape. iDisprespectHoez 27 Jan." Did all the postcards have different text? If so, what else did you include? Your inclusion of a tweet on the back of a postcard with a scrap of an envelope painted on the front references dueling methods (and eras) of communication. I'm curious to know more about that.
CL: Well, originally the idea for 32 came from the contradiction implied by the number and the Postcard Collective- With the rise of the internet, the postal system is barely staying afloat, however it’s the internet that makes initiating a wide reaching exchange like the Postcard Collective possible. My initial thought was to take something interior (the envelop lining) and make it very visible, and to take something normally considered public (the internet, twitter, etc) and make it all about secrets and privacy.
The quotes on the back of the cards (and yes, all of them were different. I didn’t even think about recording all of them before sending them off, alas) are all tweets found by searching for various synonyms of the word ‘reveal’ (I believe yours was found while searching ‘leak’). I tried to chose tweets that not only used the word, but were also about revealing something one wouldn’t normally reveal in public (offline).
I think outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, etc, are fascinating- Especially Twitter, which seems like its sole purpose is to exist as a public platform for private thoughts. I’m pretty slow when it comes to technology, and was intrigued by how many tweets were extremely personal and confessional. In my research I found a surprising number of twitterfeeds entirely devoted to anonymous secret-posting. It’s like there’s something hardwired into our brains that needs to confess to someone, anyonee0 like Midas’s brother and the lake. Even as a fairly private person, I kind of understand the appeal of an anonymous confessor.
My decision to handwrite the tweets was inspired by the constantly evolving nature of social media- everything’s constantly changing and almost always time stamped. Even the time stamp changes- a tweet that was posted ‘a minute ago’ is only more minutes away from being posted ‘an hour ago- It’s only after days, in some cases, that an objective date is given to the data. A part of me thought it would be funny to take something so fluid and high tech and put it into a fixed format (A good deal of my art is meant to make myself laugh.)
JR: Both of your submissions exist online and the blog entry is integral to understanding them as a whole. Can you talk about the online presence/history/documentation of these (which is highly contemporary) versus the handmade nature and nostalgic subject matter which references the past? This is one of the things that fascinates me most about your postcards is this juxtaposition of time and materials.
CL: Originally, with the 30 New Pictures… I decided to make all the cards available because if I knew I was receiving one of thirty items, I’d want to know what the others were- Like one of those mystery prizes- ‘which one will I get?’ I see the postcards, especially 30 New Pictures as part of a complete story- I wanted the recipients of each card to feel that their card was entirely their own (each had a personal message related to something I thought we might have in common) but also to be able to see how their card fit into the overall story. The internet is a marvelous tool to make that happen.
At the same time, it’s also a bit of a tease- you can see the front of the cards, but not the back (each postcard has a personal message.). Also, you can see each front, but knowing they’re paintings, you know looking at them in person is different than seeing them digitally- like looking up masterpieces on Google Images – I’ve looked up Eva Hesse’s sculptures online hundreds of times, but I’ve never gotten misty-eyed staring at my monitor or thought ‘Yup. Don’t need to see that in person now. This isn’t meant to say that seeing a Cat Lynch postcard is the same experience as seeing an Eva Hesse sculpture, but I do think that art that exists first as a physical object is meant to be seen in bodily person. But like I said, initially? Mystery prize box.
JR: Can you drop a hint as to what we will see next in May?
CL: The method’s are fairly similar- watercolor drawing, 30 different pieces. With this next exchange, however I wanted to incorporate more of my writing and tell a more personal story- hidden under layers of process and metaphor of course. This time, rather than documenting a stranger’s abandoned, physical collection, I’m documenting my own personal, somewhat intangible and ongoing collection. Readers of my blog, or of the Oxford English Dictionary will recognize a few elements.
[All studio images are courtesy of Cat Lynch.]