Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ATCs at the RAG: Talking Art with Kathy Tycholis

Kathy Tycholis admires artists' works at the Richmond Art Gallery.
Kathy Tycholis graduated from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. She is Education and Public Program Coordinator at the Richmond Art Gallery (RAG), and organized the RAG’s 5th Annual Artist Trading Card Exhibition. Katharine Fletcher visited the RAG and interviewed Tycholis for AQ last November.

KF: This year’s exhibit was the RAG’s 5th annual. Has participation grown?

KT: The first year, perhaps 80 artists exhibited; more than 400 artists participated in 2010/11.

KF: Can you comment on ATCs regarding the evolution of art movements?

KT: Many people have problems with the ATC concept, particularly with the giving. They’ll only trade certain ones or trade with certain people. But ATCs are exciting: they’re about collaboration and the trade. They’re anti-commercial and all about experimentation. Like performance art, ATCs are collaborative and democratic where artists, actors, musicians, anyone works to create something new.

KF: Please comment about the history of ATCs in the context of democracy and social commentary.

KT: Have you heard of Joseph Beuys [1921-86]? He was a controversial German artist who shook up the art world with avant-garde concepts. Beuys said, “Everyone is an artist.” He worked with community and believed strongly in the democracy of art. He was one of the founding members of the Green Party and in the 1960s joined the Fluxus group.

KF: What is Fluxus?

KT: Fluxus was a Sixties art movement evolving from Dadaism. Artists were from many disciplines: visual artists worked with musicians, dancers, designers, writers, and there was great interaction with their audience. [Wikipedia explains the name is derived from Latin, meaning “to flow.”]

Over time, the Mail Art phenomenon evolved in the late 1960s and 1970s, where artists mailed their work to one another. It can be anything, anything at all. Unlike ATCs, there is no expectation of getting anything back. Mail art is still going and when you think about it, ATCs take Mail Art to a different level. Interestingly, it is male dominated while ATCs are female-dominated.

KF: What’s the difference between these forms?

KT: The significant difference is that with jam cards or sending ATCs through the mail [“Pay it Forward”], ATC artists invite other artists to add something to their cards. That means we artists are willing to see our own creations altered by other artists.

KF: You’re emphasizing the democratization of art?

KT: Precisely. And ATCs bypass galleries. ATCs are about being inclusive and not being part of an elitist gallery system. They’re about sharing and interaction.

Katharine admiring ATCs at the Richmond Art Gallery.
 KF: When considering ATCs and certainly while looking around this exhibit, I wonder: how can anyone argue they’re not art?

KT: Let me tell you something. The way ATC cards are hung in their plastic sleeves rather than framing them has an interesting effect upon people. We took one out of its sleeve and framed it a month ago. All of a sudden, the ATC was perceived as art! You know, we are so in our culture: we are so commercial. People (and many artists) think that if you’re a “real” artist you have to make money from your work.

KF: Thanks so much for your time, Kathy: you’ve been extremely inspiring as well as insightful. I hope we can look forward to a 6th ATC exhibit at the RAG.

[Note: Although a 6th ATC RAG exhibit may happen again, it won’t be in 2011/12.]


  1. Thank you for this interview,now I know Kathy better. I live in Florida, USA, and when I mailed my ATCs for this exhibition I never thought that my husband would surprise me with a trip to visit it. We also visited his children that live in Seattle and Portland. It was a great experience to see my own work hanging in a wall! It was a very short trip, but worthwhile.
    Thank you again for letting us know more about Kathy.

  2. Kathy,
    Thanx for all your hard work. Interesting observation that Mail Art is sort of a male dominated form and ATCs a female dominated form. I think it has to do with the size - women must be more detail orientated - or something to do with the "trade" as an essential part of the form. Never thought about it before.

  3. Hi Katharine - it was such a pleasure to show off Kingsbrae Garden to you and Eric yesterday! It was good to have such a willing, appreciative audience, really engaged in what we do here.

    On a personal note, I am a traditional rughooker and am an enthusiastic ATC trader. I've looked at RAG and hope to get there one of these days. Good for them for championing the petite expressions of creativity and art from so many people.

    Many thanks for your kind comments and positive interest. I hope all those photos come out from our misty day rambling around the Garden!