Things to Think About in Space - The Art of Mario Lara

Mail Art Musings


Nov. 2010

I remember way back in 1977 meeting Steve Hitchcock, a dyed-in-the wool punker, while I was doing undergraduate studies in Fine Art and Environmental Design at San Diego State University. I especially remember wondering how the hell he ended up in San Diego, California. Home of Cinco de Mayo celebrations and surf culture. Steve was always in full regalia, all black attire with the obligatory torn t-shirt, zippers, safety pins and spiked hair. Most of the students stayed well away from him. I on the other hand wanted to get to know him. He was distributing his mini-zine Cab-Volt in the art department at the time and that was my introduction to Neo-Dada. It was Steve who suggested I participate in a Mail Art Show he was helping to organize at the university gallery. I was encouraged to submit whatever I wanted because nothing was rejected and all works would be exhibited. I was blown away by all the mailings that were in the show. Not your typical polite art exhibit at all. It was a complete riot of weirdness from all over the world. The resulting exhibition catalog came with a mailing list of all who contributed and so began my journey into the Eternal Network.

I found out that I shared a natural disaffection and skepticism of the Establishment embraced by most Mail Artists that I engaged with at the time. I also disliked the unnatural curatorial process instituted by most galleries and museums that stifled creative expression. Mail Art cut out the middleman (cultural institutions) allowing artists to freely and openly exchange ideas and information without censure by way of the International Postal System. Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's you could send through the mail pretty much anything you wanted provided you paid the postage. I remember one significant Mail Art Project organized by Judith Hoffberg of Umbrella Magazine in Los Angeles, CA. Most of the mailings did not arrive at the gallery so Judith investigated what happened with all the work. It turns out the L.A. Post Office decided it was not legitimate mail and threw it all into a dumpster. Luckily Judith was able to retrieve all of the mailings from the dumpster and launch the show. This incident really stirred things up quite a bit. That was how I came to know some of the crazy artists in L.A. In particular Lon Spiegelman. Judith Hoffberg knew pretty much everyone who was involved with Mail Art, 'Zines and Bookworks at the time. It was also during this time that I was receiving mailings from Julia and Gyorgy Galantai of Artpool in Budapest, Hungary. I contributed to many of their project invitations and as a result Artpool became a home for many of my mailing efforts. It is for this reason that I chose to contribute the bulk of what I held onto to them. I felt Artpool was a kind of sanctuary where artworks like Mail Art were welcomed and shared. I really never felt this kind of open support from The Franklin Furnace in New York.

It was an exciting experience for me to be engaged in the worldwide Eternal Network. In the beginning I was mostly making color Xeroxes of my collage postcards. They were easy to make, easy to reproduce and cheap to mail. Along the way I adopted the nickname “Art Rat”. Later on I found out there was a Canadian Mail Artist who had been using the same name before me. Oddly I never heard anything from that person. My feeling was there was plenty of room for numerous art rats to coexist.

Mario Lara: Art Stamp, 1980.

Art Stamp (1980)

I would say the high point of my involvement was when I decided to do an edition of Commonpress. This was a publication series organized by Pawel Petasz in Poland (before the wall came down). I was able to get my first modest grant from the Fessenden Foundation to cover the costs of printing Commonpress-37, "Things To Think About In Space". At some point in the mid 1980's I began feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of mailings I was receiving and the difficulty I was experiencing trying to respond to it all. Mail Art was not my primary creative interest at the time despite how much fun it was. I decided to back away from the Eternal Network so that I could concentrate more on my other creative activities such as installations and public art. I was beginning to get heavily involved in the local art scene and especially the handful of artist run not-for-profit art organizations such as Sushi Performing & Visual Arts, The Centro Cultural de la Raza and Installation Gallery in San Diego.

Artstamp by Mario Lara, April 1995.
Artstamp by Mario Lara, April 1995.
Artstamp by Mario Lara, April 1995.
Artstamp by Mario Lara, April 1995.
Artstamp by Mario Lara, April 1995.

Artstamps by Mario Lara, April 1995 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Mario Lara: Cyber-Sandals, 1999.

Cyber-Sandals (1999)

I did manage to continue doing some exchanges with Artpool and one particular artist from Pittsburgh, PA by the name of Jerome D’Angelo. He sent me all kinds of wild collages and postcards. I especially enjoyed what he did with his envelopes. We still send each other home made X-Mas cards every year. At some point, once I became savvy with computers and digital imaging, I began thinking about creating a digital archive of some of what I had in my Mail Art collection. I just could not let the material rot away in storage and I could not just dispose of it either. Earlier this year I contacted Artpool to see if they would be interested in any of the work. I felt this would be an excellent home for what I had. Julia and Gyorgy agreed to receive what I was willing to send them. That was a great relief to me. I am also providing them with a copy of my digital archive for reference and to possibly use on their enormous website ( It has one crazy trip down memory lane looking at all the work. I especially remember wonderful works by Edgardo-Antonio Vigo and Graciela Marx, Buster Cleveland, Robin Crozier, Crackerjack Kid, Dear Ms. Cernak, Vittore Baroni, Cavellini, Anna Banana, Bill Gaglione, and so many others. I have come to learn that many of my Mail Art compatriots have passed away. Their artwork remains eternal.

Mario Lara