An artistamp (a portmanteau of the words "artist" and "stamp") or artist's stamp refers to a postage stamp-like artform. It is similar to a Cinderella stamp in that it is not valid for postage, but it differs from a forgery or a bogus stamp in that (typically) the creator has no intent to fool any post office or collector of stamps. (However, depending on how the stamp is used, it may be difficult to distinguish artistamps from local post stamps.) The artistamp is intended to be a miniature artwork which can depict or commemorate any subject its creator chooses.


The first artist to produce an "artist’s stamp" is open to interpretation. Fine artists were certainly commissioned to create poster stamps (advertising posters in collectible stamp form) from the late 1800s, but none appear to have worked with the format outside the commercial context.

In 1919, Dadaist Raoul Hausmann affixed a self-portrait postage stamp to a postcard, [John Held, Jr., [ "Robert Watts: The Complete Postage Stamp Sheets, 1961-1986"] ] but given that Dada was determinedly anti-art (at least in theory), calling this an "artist’s stamp" seems almost counterintuitive.

German artist Karl Schwesig, while a political prisoner during World War II, drew a series of pseudo-stamps on the blank, perforated margins of postage stamp sheets, using coloured inks. This 1941 series, which illustrated life in a concentration camp, has been claimed by Jas Felter, curator of several exhibitions of the form, as the first true set of artist's stamps. [Peter Frank, [ "Postal Modernism: Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images"] ]

Robert Watts, a member of the Fluxus group, became the first artist to create a full sheet of [faux] postage stamps within a fine art context when he produced a perforated block of 15 stamps combining popular and erotic imagery in 1961. [John Held, Jr., "ibid."]

Multimedia artist James Warren "Jas" Felter curated an exhibition called "Artists' Stamps and Stamp Images" at Simon Fraser Gallery, Simon Fraser University, Canada, in 1974: the first exhibition to acknowledge the stamp as an artistic medium. This collection, which toured Europe and America for the next ten years, led to an explosion in the number of artists using stamps as an artistic format.

Canadian multimedia artist and philatelist T Michael Bidner, who made his life's work the cataloguing of all known artist's stamps, coined the word "artistamp" in 1982. [James W. Felter, "Artistamps: Francobolli d’artista", Italy, 2000] It quickly became the term of choice amongst mail artists.

In 1989 Felter curated the first of three International Biannual Exhibitions of Artistamps at Davidson Galleries in Seattle.

In 1999 documentation artist Rosemary Gahlinger-Beaune together with Giovanni Bianchini, program analyst, released "The World of Artistamps", an encyclopedic CD-ROM depicting over 10,0000 artistamp images, and defined the medium and genre of Artistamps.

Artist Steve McQueen created artistamps showing the faces of British soldiers killed in Iraq.Fact|date=April 2007

Recognition of the art form

Despite the exhibitions, history, number of artists and global sweep of the artistamp movement, the concept had long been ignored by major institutions and derided by the arts establishment: before his death in 1989, Bidner attempted to donate his definitive collection to several major Canadian institutions. To his shocked disgust, he was turned down by every one. It eventually went to Artpool, an art research centre in Budapest, Hungary. [György Galántai, [ "Thomas Michael Bidner (1944-1989): A Commemorative Exhibition"] ] Upon his death, Bidner's friend Rosemary Gahlinger-Beaune, undertook Bidner's vision and began to catalogue, using philatelic standards, artistamps from over 200 artists from 29 countries, documenting more than 10,0000 artistamp images. In 1999, Gahlinger-Beaune and Bianchini released a CD Rom entitled "The World of Artistamps", the most comprehensive database of artistamps of the time . In 2007 the exhibition "Para stamps – Four decades of artists' stamps from Fluxus to the Internet" was held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary.

The artistamp process

Artistamps are often created uniquely or in limited editions. Artistamps have been produced as multiples of one design per sheet; a multitude of designs per page; as miniature sheets with a decorative or inclusive border; or any combination/size/shape the artist chooses.

Artists who regularly use the form often create fantasy stamps for their own imaginary "postal administrations" or countries – in many cases developing or complementing an entire "governmental system" – and their subjects may reflect personal interests, from the political to the fantastic. Artistamp creators often include their work on legitimate mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art. In many countries this is perfectly legal, provided the artistamp doesn't pretend to be, or is unlikely to be mistaken for, a legal postage stamp. When so combined (and sometimes, less strictly speaking, even when not so) the artistamp is part of the mail art genre.

Techniques for the creation of artistamps may or may not include perforating the boundaries of the piece to resemble a traditional gummed stamp, as well as applying gum to the reverse side of the paper. Self-adhesive artistamps have also been made; however, this type of adhesive may not be archival. Whole sheets of such stamps are often made at one time. The artwork may be hand-drawn or painted, lithographed or offset-printed, photographed, photocopied, etched, engraved, silk-screened, rubber stamped, or produced on a computer printer. As with the design, the production method is entirely the choice of the artist.

For artists who wish to produce their own artistamps, the personal computer is a godsend: cheap colour printing, in small or large runs, is ideally suited to artistamp production. It's no coincidence that the early '70s explosion in artistamp creation paralleled the development and widespread use of colour photocopiers.

Makers of artistamps sometimes apply cancellations to them when they are applied to covers; first day of issue covers for artistamps exist.

The rise of the Internet has seen the development of a new concept in artistamps: cyberstamps, designed specifically to be viewed on-line (often sent with e-mails) and never intended to be printed. Cyberstamps also allow the use of animated imagery.

Artistamp artists

Creators of artistamps include Donald Evans, Anna Banana, Patricia Tavenner, Jas W Felter, Steve Smith, Harley (creator of Terra Candella), and the prolific New Zealander Bruce Grenville; Grenville's output spans more than three decades and encompasses an entire alternative universe of artistamp countries. These include the Sultanate of Occussi-Ambeno, the Kingdom of all the Sedang (not to be confused with the historic Kingdom of Sedang), the Sultanate of Upper Yafa, the People's Republic of Kempland, the Free Vinland Republic, the Republic of Liegerland, the Republic of Port Maria, Tui Tui, Aldabra, Karenni, Raoul, the Land of Muggy, Cryonica, Aramoana, Whangamomona, Lar?, Nova Arcadia, the Antarctic Confederation and the Khanate of Bokhara. Grenville's artistamp world even has its own imaginary "United Nations," the "International Council of Independent States" (ICIS). His creations are sometimes identified as micronations; however, being completely fictitious and without "participants", they do not fit the definition.

Publishers have been known to jump on the artistamp bandwagon: cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, released "The 1990 Doonesbury Stamp Album" through Penguin in 1990; this album contained a large number of perforated, gummed stamps featuring characters and settings from Doonesbury. Another example is a series of Ankh-Morpork stamps created to publicise the "Discworld" novel "Going Postal"; the stamps proved so popular that more Discworld stamps are planned.David Krueger's series of pseudo-stamps critiquing the Bush administration, begun in 2001, is on view at the CUE Art Foundation in Chelsea, New York, from April 24 - May 31, 2008.

Purchase and collection

For the collector, artistamps can be purchased via the internet, either through on-line auctions or direct from artists or other collectors. Many artistamp creators are happy to swap their creations with other practitioners of the form, either directly or within the broader concept of mail art.

For collecting or creating, artistamps are ideally suited to those with limited funds, or those whose interests lie in subverting the dominant paradigm.


ee also

*mail art

External links

* [ Jas Cyberspace Museum] – Jas Felter’s website, which includes the International Directory of Artistamp Creators, an artistamp gallery and an archive of articles on the medium.
* [ Artpool]
* [ Terra Candella] - Harley's site, which includes three decades of work and commentary on his own work and his work as curator of mail art shows.
* [ Kingdom of all the Sedang] - includes links to many of the Grenville artistamp "countries" listed above.
* [ International Council of Independent States (ICIS)]
* [ The Matangi Island Philatelic Bureau ]
* [ The Cautese Nationál Postal Disservice ]
* [ Misteraitch Art1stamps - Weapons of Class Destruction ]
* [ Kunstterrorist Organisation - Limited edition Artistamps ]
* [ International Union of Mail Artists]

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