Richard Barlow goes postal

The local artist takes his postcards seriously.

Barlows postcards may not depict scenic vistas, but they do offer a new take on the one of the first photographs taken.

Image by Richard Barlow

Barlow’s postcards may not depict scenic vistas, but they do offer a new take on the one of the first photographs taken.

by Joseph Kleinschmidt

Most of Richard Barlow’s recipients have no idea who’s sending mail to them. But when the artist picks someone for his “Daily Bromides” series of watercolors, he sends them one postcard every day for 30 days.

“I thought I should send them anonymously to someone so that there’s no chance of them coming back,” he said.

The project began as a lark — Barlow accidentally started his handmade art, dedicated to early 19th century photography, on the back of a postcard. After finishing one at the Interlochen Center for Arts, he decided he needed to send it off.

“There’s something that I really like about the idea that every day I have to let this thing go,” he said.

Though the University of Minnesota alumnus is known for large-scale visual art, the postcard project presented a new opportunity for interaction. “Bromides,” which refers to both platitudes and an early photographic process, gave Barlow a new space for communication.

Librarians, philosophers, art critics, writers — all thinkers Barlow admires — have received the stream of postcards in the mail. Although the artist’s five by seven landscapes now hang in the Shoebox Gallery, the project’s impetus was casual.

“I was interested in communicating with people outside of this gallery context,” he said.

Without the glass barriers of a gallery, Barlow’s anonymous recipients receive a stack of colorful tributes to one of his favorite photographs. William Henry Fox Talbot pioneered the Calotype, an early photographic process using silver iodide and paper.

Barlow chose Fox Talbot’s early negative “Reflected Trees” to continually paint, paying homage to one of the first photos ever taken. Trees reflected in a lake appear black and white, a replication Barlow decided to extend.

“I in turn make an image of his image of an image of an image,” he said.

Barlow’s affinity for meta-consciousness digs deeper than your uncle’s postcard of San Diego’s skyline. “Daily Bromides” makes the well-worn landscape art genre less of an object of affection — the standard postcard view of a landscape holds little importance for Barlow.

“To me, there’s no imminent meaning there for us to discover,” he said. “You go somewhere and buy the postcard view of the place you are to put into your photo album. You have this scenic overview that tells you the right place to look at it.”

“Daily Bromides” inspires creativity among its recipients — some hang the collection in a grid and others put them in a pile. When he was on another mail art spree as a Jerome Fellow last year, Barlow recalls finally seeing the culmination of his postage when a Walker Art Center librarian visited him.

“He came to visit my studio, and I had some of these cards out among other things. He remembered when they were coming into the library,” he said. “They had no idea where they were coming from.”


What: “Daily Bromides” reception

When: 8 p.m., Friday

Where: Shoebox Gallery, 2948 S. Chicago Ave., Minneapolis