Zine & Comics reviews for Variant

Pawson's mark. Paula Carson, Creative Review Magazine, December 1996.
Any artist who describes his work as "crap" has to be unusual. Mark Pawson is a
man who revels in being weird; obscurity for its own sake appears to be his main
motivation for getting out of bed in the morning. He is a mail artist and self-taught
bookbinder with a passion for photocopying and a huge hoard of what he terms
"essential ephemera" and "cool crap".
Pawson has a flair for making the commonplace interesting. He sells his art work
independently through a mail order business which has been going now for over ten
years and has developed almost completely via word of mouth.
All My Rubberstamps is one of his more lavish publications, featuring every rubber
stamp in his extensive collection accumulated over a 25-year period. "All the books
have been stamped by hand and I use standard rubber stamp ink colours. Some
stamps come with their own inkpad, and some have fruit-scented ink although the
smells do fade," explains Pawson. The hardback edition is sewn and bound in
luxurious black sheet rubber - the same type (he says) as is used for fetish clothing.
"It's really difficult to manipulate, it's like mending an enormous puncture. I used
one type of rubber that was really smelly, now I use one that comes in rolls and is
covered in talcum powder it not only looks great, it smells great too." One of the
finer features of the book are the blank pages at the back enabling the owner to
return it to Pawson to be updated. Rubber stamps collected from childhood, found in
the street and acquired from vending machines ( which are in Pawson's opinion,
"ridiculously cute") have been included. All books are signed by Pawson and
individually numbered. "My main priority with printing is accessibility... I must
be able to do it myself and I like using odd, quirky printing methods I can do at
home like photocopying or rubber stamping," explains Pawson. "My books
would have no relevance if they were sent to the printers."
The hands-on approach, individual layouts, signing, numbering and limited
production are essential aspects of his work. He is fascinated with what others
might perceive as everyday junk. Taking the commonplace out of context, thus
making it special isn't a new idea, but Pawson takes his obsession to an
unprecedented extreme.
"The photocopier which illustrates the I Love Toner T-shirt died recently. I made
50 T-shirts in total - I thought there were probably that many people worldwide
who would wear one. There are only a few left now and I shan't reprint it."
Pawson took the illustration straight out of a photocopying mannual. "It was
covered in arrows pointing out the names of different parts and I had to Tippex it
for ages - I don't like Tippex but it's a necessary evil."
The effects that Pawson achieves from his "quirky printing methods" are
impressive. One particularly striking series of books are printed on unused 48-sheet
poster paper. Multiple random overprints in black, red and blue make an intense
visual barrage of overlaid images, textures and graphics, copied so frequently that
you can actually feel the build-up of toner on the page. Again the images are
familiar icons and shapes, from the Keep Britain Tidy logo to pictures of Mr
Blobby and the Take That logo; he knows no snobbery when it comes to content.
Pawson doesn't just cling to the photocopier. One of his most recent projects is a
range of iron-on appliques in ultra-cute animal and Santa shapes that will hold
definite appeal for collectors of kitsch 70s ephemera. "I found a bin-bag full of
them in a skip," Pawson explains. "They were great because they all came with
little accessories - hats, bow ties or flowers. I was playing around with existing
forms and types - like sticking the tongues out at jaunty angles. There was a lot of
work involved dissembling, re-shaping and sticking eyes back on."
He also offers a range of transfers - the kind you wet and stick on your arm - as
well as a set of postcards, one of which is rubber-stamped with the legend "Some
bastard stole the front wheel of my bicycle" (this is also available as a limited
edition enamel plaque).
Is there merit in such work or is Pawson just a man with too much time on his
hands? Multimedia artist Jake Tilson appears to like him; "I first bumped into him
over the photocopier and I have one of his I Lover Toner T-shirts. He's slightly
alternative, his work has a home-made feel to it. He uses the photocopier to get
grainy results in the same way that an indie band would use Super 8 for their pop
promos. I think his Die-Cut Plug Wiring Diagram Book is a great idea." This book
is a collection of the digrammatical cards that are fitted over the prongs of plugs to
illustrate how to wire them correctly. Deluxe versions of the book are sewn
together with threads that correspond to the colours of the wires.
Anthony Burrill, internet designer of Creative Futures fame, recently kicked the
mail art habit. He is a big fan of Pawson and boasts a huge collection of Pawson
paraphernalia; "Mail art is a bit conceptual and anti-establishment. It's even more
anarchic than the internet which you need money for; all you need to be a mail
artist is a 26 pence stamp. It's underground and very cheap and there is a lot of
rubber stamping and poor quality photocopying going on, " says Burrill. "I like
Pawson's work because it is wilful, it shows a disregard for mainstream values -
I think collecting stuff that in 20 years time will be amazing is a valuable thing to
do... I think a collection of anything is impressive."
Pawson's latest home-grown project is a book about his collection of Noggins -
little Viking people made out of wood and cotton wool - which he has
accumulated from car boot sales. he is now desperately trying to find paper with
a Viking watermark. Can anybody help him?