The visual art of envelopes, PGDF style

by Andy Watson

No, not because there is a WANTED poster with my face on the wall. It’s not me they desire; it is my mail!

Sorting, collating, delivering junk mail is an inhuman, soul-crushing job-never-done. So: imagine their delight, consider the renewed sense of wonder conveyed to my local postmaster and staff when they encounter envelopes plastered with silly, subtle, crass, sublime, banal and bizarre visual non-sequiteurs. Dance-step diagrams juxtaposed with salacious ‘sixties-era Playboy comic captions. Well-oiled vixens pasted into position, leering out of potbelly stoves advertised in yellowing, 105-year-old fin de siecle catalogues of cast-iron medical devices. Farm animals debating pharmaceutical inserts warning of curious side effects. Ludicrous labor-saving inventions, coupled with comic-book word bubbles carefully excised from casually pornographic German public health advisories. Max Fleischer’s manic sensibilities invested onto miniature television screens advertising A Whole New Ewe. Now, that was why they’d joined the post office in the first place…

Two, three, sometimes four times a week — for well over fifteen years, now — I’ve received envelopes from Paul Di Filippo, invested with his unique sensibilities, his fascinating, strangely slapdash-AND-deft collage art. Never less than six times a month, even when he has been hobbled by illness or traveling overseas. Neither sleet nor hail has stayed that appointed courier of mindbending whimsy.

Paul scoffs at PhotoShop and reaches for his scissors, for a razor blade, for a glue stick, for stickers and stencils and packing tape. With the surgical precision of Max Ernst, he conjures an original, peculiar thought and sends its manifestation my way. With expert ease he instantiates his ideas with what I imagine to be protean alacrity. (In all these years I have never watched him make one of these Mail Art envelopes. Perhaps each one takes him four hours! But I prefer to think he creates them in a blur of instinct, in less time than it takes us mere mortals to lick a stamp.)

Yes, of course, I am also interested in the contents of these glorious envelopes: the manuscripts and disks, the press clippings and pages torn from magazines, the foreign language editions and zines. Perhaps the only phenomenon that can rival Paul’s artistic Output is his Input — an eclectic and insatiable hunger, a passionate and persistent curiosity, an omniscient awareness. It all contributes somehow to Paul’s mindmeld with the zeitgeist: an unfathomably holistic grasp of pop culture. In this sense, Paul’s Mail Art is another aspect of the same muse that powers his writing.

In his novels and stories — and in his Mail Art — the essentially cheerful Di Filippo soul is exposed. He clearly applies himself to the production of Mail Art because he enjoys it. I feel certain that he would continue even if only to mail these marvelous things to himself. Sometimes I can actually hear his distinctive laugh as I extract a new envelope from the pile of bills and ponder the latest expression of his joie de vivre.

So I have accumulated hundreds (maybe over a thousand?) of these, by rough count, in bags and boxes. Early in this postal exchange spanning decades I realized that there was genius in Paul’s Mail Art, in addition to his work as a writer, and so I’ve kept them ALL, waiting for an opportunity to put them on display. I thought it would be a side show at a science fiction convention where Paul would someday be the guest of honor. But where better than at PaulDiFilippo.COM?