Sas Colby: Stamp Collecting @Stellarhighway

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 framed photographic works and 4 photobooks, hung against white walls and shown on a table in the single room gallery space.

The following works have been included in then show:

  • 1 photo stamp composition mounted to museum board, c1983, sized 5×7 inches, unique
  • 1 Cibachrome print and collaged photo stamps mounted to board, 1986, sized 6×9 inches
  • 1 hand colored Cibachrome print and collaged photo stamp mounted to board, 1986, sized roughly 10×6 inches, unique
  • 1 Cibachrome print and photo stamps on museum board, 1985, sized roughly 9×12 inches, unique
  • 3 photo stamps collaged on museum board, c1980s/2019, sized roughly 5×3, 4×3, 4×2 inches, unique
  • 1 artist book with vellum cover, eight pages, coptic bound, featuring collaged photo stamps, postage stamps, various papers, cut out and torn pages, rubber stamp cancellations, 1983-1987, sized roughly 8×8 inches, unique
  • 1 artist book, 12 pages, accordion fold on museum board plus cover and back, containing 12 gelatin silver prints and photo stamps, 1987, sized 5×7 inches, unique
  • 1 artist book in black Canson paper envelope with two accordion folds (one with 5 photo stamps across 6 panels and press-on white lettering, the other with 6 photo stamps across 6 panels and press-on white lettering), 1992, roughly 6×7 inches (envelope), 5×3 inches (each fold closed), unique
  • 1 artist book, uncoated opaque paper, vellum, red thread, photo stamps, four pages plus covers, 2023, (photos, collages, and sewing by Sas Colby, poems by Christine Hemp), sized roughly 9×9 inches, in an edition of 50.

(Installation and photobook spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Decades before it became possible to have authentic United States postage printed with custom photography, Sas Colby was artistically experimenting with co-opting the postage stamp as a potential artistic medium. Back in the 1980s, Colby made her own “photo stamps”, by having her own photographs rephotographed, reduced in size, and cluster printed on paper; these twenty-five image sheets were then gummed and perforated by hand using an antiquated mechanical machine, giving them the look and feel of real postage. Throughout the 1980s, Colby used these sheets of photo stamps as the raw material for various artistic experiments and series, including collaging the stamps together with her own larger prints, displaying the stamps as grids or clusters, and using them in more open-ended hand-crafted artist’s books.

Colby’s photo stamp idea (particularly in its 1980s context) was the logical outgrowth of several artistic pathways. In it, we can find connections to 1970s mail art; to the reproduction and repetition of Pop Art and xerox art; to the appropriation and recontextualization of media of the Pictures Generation artists; to the idea of cheap multiples from the Fluxus movement; and back even further to Dada collage and cut-up approaches. The end result was a remarkably flexible vehicle for delivering imagery, and this small show offers a quick sampler of a handful of different ways Colby deployed her stamps.

“Red Nude Running” (from c1983) is perhaps Colby’s most straightforward implementation of the stamp motif – a 25 image sheet itself, unedited, displayed as a finished artwork. The artist’s nude figure is caught mid-stride, Muybridge-like and tinted in red, with a strip of yellow on the left edge, the grid repeating the running body like a jittering film strip. Seen from a vantage point some forty years later, the work seems to smartly combine echoes of Warhol and Rauschenberg with a more Feminist perspective. Other works cut the full stamp pages down to smaller strips and grids, which Colby then interrupts and recombines. “Ear Play” replaces the central image in a grid of pictures of a hand atop piano keys with an image of an ear (apparently a Mapplethorpe appropriation), while “Shadow Play” intervenes in a grid of images of a silhouetted figure and a patio table, replacing two corner images in the perforated grid with a variant perspective with the figure in a different position. Both works have a puzzle-like effect, where are our expectations for a sheet of stamps are upended by Colby’s clever disruptions.

A few years later, in 1985 and 1986, Colby began to experiment with collaging her photo stamps together with larger photographic prints, playing with the possibilities of differing scale and resonant pairings. In “Beach I”, photo stamps of a woman draped in a dark blue veil provide a linked border to a cropped enlargement of the same image, creating both a doubling effect and a contrast of sizes, and perhaps an oblique visual pun on wrapping. A year later, she was making color photographs of the silky quilted interiors of suitcases she found at flea markets; to these tightly cropped images (so that we appear to peer inside), she added various photo stamps from her growing archive (nudes of herself and a portrait of a couple) as well as some hand coloring, turning the collaged images into something akin to precious (but dated) boxes housing lost memories.

Colby has long been interested in artist’s books, and her photo stamps have been incorporated into a selection of books and small paper objects on view in this show. “Keeping Time” from 1987 pairs black-and-white images with photo stamps and text captions, once again exploring visual hints and suggestions that connect the pieces together. “Stamp Collecting” takes a more expressive graphic design approach, layering the stamps together with various scraps, papers, and other ephemera, each spread an almost rebus-like arrangement of visual fragments. Other books use the stamps in more linear progressions (in zig zag folds) and rework the earlier suitcase interiors, adding in physical stitching and poems on sheets of vellum.

It feels like Colby’s photo stamp concept could easily have been taken in a more reactionary, intellectual, or transgressive direction (like much of mail art), but ultimately, her choices are more subtle than that, opting for surreal whispers and visual echoes rather than shouts and confrontations. Her suitcase interior idea was also an intriguing one, that she seems only to have explored for a relatively short time. This small survey leaves many of these tantalizing threads unbound, the what ifs of Colby’s 1980s photo experiments hanging open for further digging.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The vintage photo stamp collages and photographic prints range from $1700 to $12000, while the vintage photobooks range from $2000 to $12000, with the recent editioned book available for $50. Colby’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Send this article to a friend

Read more about: Sas Colby, Stellarhighway

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Emin Özmen, Olay

Emin Özmen, Olay

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter