Brent Leopold loves the United States Postal Service. He says he has sent his artwork to every US state and even around the world as part of his “Human Artist Vending Machine” project, which he records in photos on his Flickr account, along with other painting and drawing projects he’s working on. Brent participates in mail art with friends and strangers “as a way to connect art world-wide, trade with other artists, and do something with [his] doodles and studies.” His art has appeared in three Greek newspapers and some of it resides in the Coke Company Headquarters after one mailing experiment. Brent says he has “mailed art to one random business in every US State. Just to see what happens.”
It’s almost shocking that mail art is a still a thing in 2015—especially with the US Postal Service supposedly on its dying vestiges in the digital age. There is a collective called the International Union of Mail Artists, formed August 16, 1988. Their website was established in 2008 and is still quite active. Post Secret is probably the most well-known community mail art project in the United States, established by Frank Warren in 2005. Anyone can mail a secret, written or illustrated on a postcard. Another notable mail art project that predates Warren's project and is still consistently updated online is http://digitalmailart.blogspot.com, where select art mailed to the address posted at the top of the blog will be scanned and posted. Brent is not alone in his practice of Mail Art, but he certainly has a unique twist on it.
His premise is simple: if you contact him and give him your address, he sends you a small drawing or painting in the mail. You take a photo of it, anywhere you want, and email the photo back to him. You get to keep the artwork, for free. In his art, he focuses on the human figure and likes to give his drawing and paintings a painterly touch and use unusual color combinations. Celebrities and movie characters are often the focus of his work, but his representations of stars are hardly derivative fan-art, taking on a life of their own. He sometimes incorporates fantastical elements, turning human figures into creatures. He believes “not everything should be overly illustrated or photo-realistic.”
He sometimes leaves his art in public places with photo instructions so people on the street can participate in the H.A.V.M project too. He says he also welcomes unsolicited art and messages from other artists and people who are intrigued by his work. He says the photos taken with his art “might be redrawn into a new watercolor,” to complete the full circle of art-photography-art. Art imitating art? Meta-art? No matter where this work falls in the spectrum of art philosophy, it is most importantly fun, accessible and interactive.
Brent says he started the Human Artist Vending Machine project because there isn’t enough free art available for regular people—he believes that income should never prevent a person from participating in, owning and enjoying art. He makes art at different price points so that anyone can afford it. Brent currently belongs to the Metropolis Collective and Trash Art Gallery in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. You can view his art there from time to time and maybe discover the small art he sometimes hides around the gallery!
Brent often drives from Mechanicsburg to the Plaza Art in Rockville, Maryland to get supplies that he can’t find locally. He uses Sennelier and M. Graham watercolors in most of his work, and also incorporates Holbein and Golden acrylics. For paper, he mostly uses cold press Arches and Fabriano, Drawing Bee paper, and Stillman & Birn Alpha hardbound paper.
All photos: Copyright, Brent Leopold, found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/frontpocket00 . First Photo taken in a field in central Pennsylvania. Second Photo: Folks holding Brent's art in Mechnicsburg, PA. Third Photo taken at the National Harbor, Washington DC.
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