The two vintage postcards above express in image more concisely than I ever could in words just exactly how I’m feeling today. They sum-up nicely the faces that I would be making at you right now if this site were, well, my face. They come from a book put out sometime around 1975 called Fantasy Postcards which reproduce a selection of vintage, turn of the century, specimens from the author, William Ouellette’s, personal collection. Since I have nothing to say today (and would rather make ugly faces at each and every one of you if only I could) I’ve decided to simply offer unto you, oh slavering maw of the internet, a few of the wacky cards which caught my eye. Enjoy.

‘All is but fantesy and enchauntmentes’, wrote the second Lord Berners in the sixteenth century. The pretty word fantasy was new in English, and meant ‘a phantom; an illusory appearance’. It was part of the cascade of inventions in the golden century of the language when the Dark Ages were over, and all dead and living words were there to plunder and make new.

But fantasy itself is necessary to man, and it is as old as history. The arts have always both drawn from it and created it; sometimes it dwindles and is discouraged as it is in Russia today, except in the simplest shapes of heroic glorification. But it will not die.

In painting it has had marvelous pinnacles of invention like the work of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel the Elder who peopled their almost ordinary landscapes of rocks and ruins, not only with normal men and angels, but also with hundreds of new inventions, living bagpipes, jugs and knives, half-birds, part-butterflies and quarter-fishes, mingled and translated, both beautiful and sinister. This ambivalence haunts all fantasy.

But powerful imagination is not enough for pictorial fantasy; it must convince - we must instantly believe in the fish on human feet - and so it must be well done, painted by a skilled artist. The best pictorial fantasy was always expensive, and was not to be had on a popular scale until the invention of printing, and even then for four hundred years the only things within reach of the poor were the prints and broadsheets illustrated with coarse wood-cuts, carrying the message of the fantasy but little conviction.

Then in the 1860s, good illustration became available for everyone with a penny to spare.

Between Two Dogs, Germany 1905.

Wind Orchestra, Germany 1907.

Necessary Operation, Italy 1913.

A Pig-uliar Card from London, Germany 1905.

Fantasy, our main theme, is as inseparable from the popular arts as energy. Once the materials have been chosen and enough satisfying elaboration worked up on the sweet, sexy, violent or whatever theme, the odd quirks of the human brain take over, sometimes on a big scale, like the turning, glittering palace of a roundabout that puts its impaled racehorses at our service, or at the small scale of a toy, dressing a bear in human clothes and putting it in the arms of a baby.

The rise of the postcard stimulated such vagaries to an unprecedented degree. There can be no one reason for the cascade of ‘fantesy and enchauntmentes’ that began in the late nineties. Everything that had been bottled up for centuries seemed to go onto postcards. The small size helped: artists did not have to spend weeks on each design but could go quickly on from one idea to the next, invention breeding invention; failure was only a piece of paper wasted, instead of an expensive canvas.

A Change of Clothes, Germany 1910.

Arabian Woman with the Yachmak (sic), Algeria 1906.

Vending Machine, Germany 1908.

A Souvenir of Lionel The Lion Man, Germany 1905.

Silencer, Germany 1905.

It is not far-fetched to think that a shoebox full of old picture postcards could comprise an informal social history of their era. Though millions of these ephemeral bits of the past have fallen victim to periodic spring cleanings and World Wars, enough survive to give us insights into those transitory moments of life so immediately captured in pictures. But these very insights are suspect, for they come to us through the complex layers of historical, aesthetic and psychological sophistication which time has determined to be our modern viewpoint. Though we can approach the past from a distance, we can never get close enough to breathe its air or touch its life; we must interpret its meaning from clues and read between the lines. Our interpretation of past reality, colored by imagination, becomes a creative act. This being so it seems interesting to include in the shoe-box encyclopedia, along with cards depicting the everyday life of the ‘real’ world, a precious group which documents the world of the imagination itself, those postcards consciously intended to relax the mind from everyday cares, provide a good laugh, a bit of titillation, or a brief escape into reverie. By encountering intentional fantasies from the past we can experience this reverie today and take similar delight-in identifying with an imaginary world which never was and never can be.

Greetings from the Mudbaths, Germany 1905.

Front, Germany 1905.

Rolling Tire, France 1920.

Rear, Germany 1905.

These are perhaps not the best examples to illustrate the included text, there are many more photo montages, bizarre scenes, saccharine babies, naughty bits, etc, but, well… (see the first image at very beginning of post again.)

Interesting notes: Though the printing technology existed in the 1860’s it took nearly 30 years for the various post office regulations of Europe and America to synch-up in such a way that sending postcards in the manner which they are still sent today (from far flung vacation spots, etc.) became feasible. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that people were actually allowed to write on the backs of postcards (that space being reserved for postal information only), until which time senders were forced to cram whatever messages they could onto the fronts. After all this shook-out postcards quickly became ubiquitous. As the introduction puts it: “The privileged stronghold of the articulate and the well-to-do on letter-writing was broken, cards and their postage were cheap and at least a greeting, X X X, was easy for anyone who could write a name and an address.”

X X X.



09.17. filed under: art. !. books. play.