Mark Harris is a collage artist. “In the old school sense,” he says, meaning he finds old images, alters them, and then puts them together on a physical surface to say something new about the world we’re living in today.
At present, there are five “postage stamps,” ranging from 24 x 30 to 30 x 40 inches in size (and no, you can’t use them to mail envelopes).
Each painted image depicts “a thought-provoking and satirical narrative,” as Harris puts it.
Take “In Guns We Trust,” a stamp Harris started working on in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina massacre. “So many other mass shootings that had taken place in the United States to that point,” Harris says of his motivation to create the piece.
Harris came across an old 1960’s era bra ad and was immediately struck by the portrayed sexiness and attitude of the model. He says he wanted to take the image out of its original context and identify it with a wild west Americanism to sell the male fantasy of guns, liberty, and violent patriotism.
“We are fortunate in this country to enjoy incredible personal freedom found nowhere else in the world, including the freedom to shoot anyone you want,” Harris says. The title of the piece, “In Guns We Trust,” is also a play on words of “In God We Trust,” which became the official motto of the United States by an act of Congress in 1956.
Then there’s “El Payaso,” which means “The Clown” in Spanish. Harris says the stamp’s value is 45 cents because Trump is the 45th U.S. president. “I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, but each day, it’s getting a little crazier, and more bizarre,” Harris says. “In a lot of ways, it’s funny, but it isn’t, because it damages the reputation of America.
Harris says he’s received a lot of positive feedback on Facebook and Instagram for his stamp series. “It’s encouraging to do this kind of work,” the artist says. “I’m in a silo most of the time. Getting feedback makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing.”
At this point, there are no plans for physical exhibitions of the whole series. However, one of his pieces will be exhibited at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco in May.
The series is a work in progress and Harris isn’t sure how many postage stamps he’ll create overall. “It’s a great time to be an artist,” Harris says. “You can say what you want without worrying it will damage your career, the way it would if you were an actor or an athlete.”