Stamps of authority

Pooh bear or Yoko Ono: somewhere there's a rubber stamp for you.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If Rubberama Europe - the name of this weekend's rubber stamp fair in London - provokes sniggers, consider the name of the rubber stamp exhibition which is running concurrently in Paris: L'Art du Tampon.

Art? Visit the Bladerubber shop in Covent Garden, London, whose founder, Paul Taylor, is co-organiser of the London fair, and you will be bewildered by multicoloured ink-pads, heat guns that melt silver and gold embossing powders, and roller-stamps with built-in ink cartridges that will disgorge yard after yard of lovers' hearts or wandering vines. Not exactly avant- garde. Nor are rubber stamps of Mickey Mouse, Peter Rabbit, Pooh and dinosaurs. It has been left to the French Musee de la Poste, organiser of the Paris exhibition, to celebrate the subversive artistic origins of le tampon a imprimer. Did we know that Andy Warhol was a tamponeur? Well, here are the rubber erasers he carved with a dove, stars, butterflies and a sun, which won him his first newspaper illustration contracts in 1949. Then there is Kasimir Malevich, leading Russian constructivist, Joseph Beuys, provocative pioneer conceptualist, Kurt Schwitters of house-of- junk fame, Carl Andre, the brick-builder, the Cubist Fernand Leger, post- industrial sculptor Tony Cragg, video artists Nam June Paik and Ben Vautier - and Yoko Ono. Her Footprints, on show in Paris, is a black box containing 12 rubber stamps dreamt up with John Lennon. The couple sold them as art, in the tradition of the anti-art, anti-establishment Fluxus Collective of Sixties New York.

Conspiring with Yoko and other young Fluxus artists was Ray Johnson, the founding father of rubber-stamp art. Johnson's "Correspondence School" (sole member: Ray Johnson) drove art gallery curators and city bigwigs barmy with its mailshots bearing enigmatic or insulting rubber-stamped impressions. Johnson formed a network of artists who posted strange artefacts to one another. In January this year, aged 67, he drowned himself off Long Island, having distributed clues to his death throughout his mail network. One, a postcard bearing his "bunny" rubber stamp and postmarked 13 January, the day he died, read: "If you are reading this I must be dead".

Today's rubber stamp art is throwing up new names such as the German Peter Brandt, who will be demonstrating his techniques at the London fair. Read all about him in Rubberstampmadness, the 180-page large-format bi-monthly magazine of the hobby in America, where some collectors own 4,000 stamps. Two of Britain's biggest rubber stamp producers each sent me a trade catalogue of more than 100 pages. One, Rubber Stampede of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, won the Gift of the Year award at this spring's International Gift Fair. Rubber stamp madness is crossing the Atlantic.

Victoriana, Disney and suns, moons and stars are selling best, Rubber Stampede reported. If you find those a little bland, try Bladerubber's impressions of nudes, "Balderdash", "Junk Mail - Return to Sender", "No" (a hopping-mad man) or its "indicators" such as a hand-held blank placard in which you can write your own scurrilities.

Local stamp makers will turn artwork into stamps for you (beware copyright). Or, like the London mail artist Michael Leigh, you can carve your own from rubber erasers. A V-shaped chisel plus two rubber erasers costs pounds 5.50 inc p&p from Make Your Mark of York (which has a stand at the fair).

Bladerubber, 2 Neal's Yard, London WC2 (0171-379 7391). Rubberama, today (11am-6pm) and tomorrow (10am-4.30pm), New Connaught Rooms, Great Queen Street, London WC1, (entry pounds 2, concs pounds 1.25). L'Art du Tampon, Musee de la Poste, 34 Boulevard de Vaugirard, 75015 Paris, to 27 August. Bladerubber (0171-379 7391). Rubberstampmadness, 408 SW Monroe 210, Corvallis, Oregon. 97330 (001 503 752 0075). Make Your Mark, 72 Goodramgate, York YO1 2LF (01904 637355).

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