June 25–August 13, 2023
A woman, shaded in a reddish hue, strides naked across a blank background toward a strip of yellow sun. This photograph, whose light casts the body of artist Sas Colby in a softened glow, so that her form resembles a classical statue, repeats in a small 5 by 5 grid. The yellow ribbon of sun she strides towards runs down each column of photos on the sheet, a recurring stripe. Just as in an Eadweard Muybridge strip, the woman is constantly in motion yet always still. But Red Nude Running (ca. 1983) is not a Möbius strip but rather a grid of photo stamps mounted onto museum board. The conceit of Colby’s small photographs such as these, made from images she took or sourced from magazines, is not immediately obvious. But the more time spent in the small exhibition Sas Colby: Stamp Collecting at Stellarhighway, the more the stamps reveal themselves, connecting Colby’s ongoing interests in photography, mail art, and collage across her fifty-year career.
Colby produced these photo stamps throughout the eighties and used them across her vast bodies of work. Photographed using a cluster lens, the images were then printed on sheets perforated by a foot-pedal machine. Sas Colby: Stamp Collecting primarily includes full sheets of these stamps. Another self-portrait, Shadow Play (2019), shows two columns of Colby’s shadow looming beside a poolside table. But rather than a single attached sheet of stamps, Colby has removed two and replaced them with a different image where her shadow and body engage more directly with the table. In case we miss this, the final image in the bottom right, one of these two outliers, has been affixed at a tilt, as though it’s been pulled from the sheet and left hanging.
The photo stamps of her shadow by the poolside table appear in collages as early as 1982, and the self-portrait of her running appears on the cover of Sas Colby’s Little Black Books (1992) and in the pages of Stamp Collecting (1983–87), two artists’ books on view in the exhibition. Stamp Collecting in particular illustrates the larger importance of stamps in the artist’s practice—collaging them in rows, small grids, and as single photos alongside rubber stamping, shiny foil, scraps of marbled paper, and other found materials.
Colby’s work brings together the intimacy of handmade mail art with the commercial appeal of stamps. Unlike her Bay Area mail art contemporaries, most famously Anna Banana, Colby’s stamps remain as photos, not xeroxed reproductions. In this way, they negate their function as usable stamps, instead manipulating the form to suggest the networks, circulation, and communication that is essential to the mail art movement—an ethos also shared by artists’ books. A small table in the gallery features several of Colby’s artists’ books featuring collaged found imagery, Colby’s own photographs, and her photo stamps. In Keeping Time (1987), an accordion fold book, Colby plays with the tension between the stillness of a photograph and the movement it attempts to capture. The book combines her black-and-white photographs with handwritten captions and brightly colored photo stamps. As she writes in her statement about this book, “In these juxtapositions of black and white and tiny color photographs I am suggesting those moments and thoughts that came before and are likely to come after the moment when the shutter opened and closed.” As for the stamps, they act like “visual footnotes rippling off the larger pictures like daydreams, an invitation to free associate on the before and after of each image.” Footnotes proffer opportunities for further reading. In the case of Colby’s works, each image holds similar potential to be shared and circulated, for further connections to be made, and for meanings to shift depending upon placement.
While contemporary viewers are likely desensitized to the circulation of images, the relative rarity of seeing stamps may surprise audiences. Colby’s stamps as photographs make a familiar link to the circulating nature of media and a less familiar link to the intimacy of communication for those who are more accustomed to receiving a deluge of emails than a mailbox full of letters.