Panel from Jeremy Cooper's postcard installation at Contains Art, Watchet, Somerset, November 2013.
Author, artist & collector Jeremy Cooper unpacks the postcard with postcardwall‘s Sophie Hill.
When did you first start consciously collecting postcards?
Sometime in 1984, I made a conscious decision to buy at least two of every commercial postcard I liked, keeping one behind and sending the others. These have now become the basis for my postcard installations. I did not seriously begin to gather postcards made by artists until about 2000.
You collect both artist’ postcards and deliberately non-artists’ postcards. What are the different attractions for these clearly separated collections?
My main concern is for the artists’ postcards, an economical field of expression which is almost completely neglected by galleries, museums, and private individuals. The other was just a habit, motivated by wanting to retain a record of commercial postcards that I liked. Many artist friends tell me they wish they had done the same – wanting to refer to some favourite postcard image, the precise details of which they can no longer remember.
Cooper’s collection includes political postcards, such as Paul Morton’s Thatcher Therapy postcard of 1985.
Postcards are so wonderfully accessible; there is something about them that appeals, sometimes in a way that comes easier than viewing a full-scale artwork. Where do you think this power lies?
I do think part of it is the 'democratic’ availability of postcards, old and new, their lack of preciousness, paired with a sense of associational warmth which many people feel towards the postcard. This permeates through even those artists’ postcards – by On Kawara, say, or Dieter Roth – which are actually recognised and valued by the art world.
You rarely exhibit your own work – do you think this stems from the personal nature of the postcards of which they are made?
No, it’s because I don’t think my postcard pieces are any good!
You lived in Shoreditch in the 1990s, close to Gavin Turk amongst others. Shoreditch, and indeed the London ‘art scene’, has changed a lot since then; in what way do you think it felt different to be an artist?
I’m not at all interested in the 'art scene’, either then or now. For me, it was very pleasurable spending time with Gavin Turk, Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst and others in Shoreditch, hearing of their artistic ambitions and frustrations years before the art world took much notice of them. The emotional rewards of witnessing significant work emerge before one’s eyes are considerable. Today I have the same satisfaction, but with a different crew of people, in a field which may sound narrow but is terrifically broad. My pleasure in discovery is the same today as it was then, and my interest in artists’ postcards has brought me into meaningful contact with, for example, Susan Hiller, as well as younger artists such as Ruth Ewan in London and Elisheva Biernoff in San Francisco – all of which I have important examples of in my collection.
Exhibition view by Stuart Whipps of Jeremy Cooper’s collection of Artists’ Postcards at Spike Island, Bristol, 2012.
Your Postcard Sums are playful, both in shape and colour. Is it easy choosing which goes where?
It’s not at all easy, especially as I don’t always have the postcard I need to fit the pattern I devise and so have to then begin on another theme.
You’re about to donate your artists’ postcard collection to The British Museum. Was it a hard decision?
The approach came from me and I’m utterly delighted that they’ll be going to the BM, available for generations ahead for study and for international loan exhibitions. The donation will be marked by an exhibition in the Prints and Drawings Department in 2018, solely of my collection and organized by me and the BM Curator of Contemporary Drawings and Prints, Stephen Coppel. There will also be a substantial catalogue which he and I will arrange together; I have a feeling it will be revelatory, to almost everyone, artist, and expert alike, few of whom will be aware of either the art historical or the aesthetic richness of the field.
Jeremy Cooper’s ‘Postcard Sums’ is exhibiting at Mario’s Café in Kentish Town until 26 April 2014.