Ex-KLF star James Cauty is no stranger to controversy – true to form, his provocative stamps are set to put the establishment’s nose out of joint. But outlawing his seditious miniatures could only make them even more covetable, argues Liz Farrelly
Better known as one-half of rock and roll legend, KLF, and art-terrorist organisation, the K-Foundation, James Cauty is a tireless myth-maker. A self-proclaimed eco-anarchist warrior, his greatest creation is his own career – wild, varied and unpredictable.
High points to date include/ at the tender age of 17, submitting a poster design inspired by Lord of the Rings to Athena, which is still, to this day, a best-seller; hijacking the 1993 Turner Prize by challenging Rachel Whiteread to accept £40 000 prize money as worst artist of the year (which she did); and the well-documented act of burning a million pounds, on the remote Scottish island of Jura. Indeed, that ‘performance’ alone earned Cauty such a level of notoriety that he and fellow protagonist Bill Drummond signed a contract agreeing not to discuss the event again until 2018.
Reaffirming what we in the industry already know – that graphic design is the new rock ‘n’ roll – Cauty has recently turned his attention to what is arguably the discipline’s most lauded and lofty genre: stamp design. But instead of waiting for the painstaking process of a Royal Mail commission, Cauty has taken it upon himself to self-publish, following the example of that most anarchic of art movements, the Fluxus-influenced mail-art posse.
Having designed a number of stamps, first day covers and promotional posters, Cauty has now assembled his entire output in book form. The book is cunningly titled Stamps of Mass Destruction and Other Creative Disasters Volume 2, and eager collectors will be scouring the planet for Volume 1 – an edition of 15 which, apparently, only saw the light of day back in 1969.
Accompanying the book is an exhibition of Cauty’s stamp designs and supporting graphic paraphernalia, at small-press-cum-guerrilla London gallery, The Aquarium. Its website continues the myth-making, by discussing the investment potential of Cauty’s stamps – it’s very financially astute, and totally tongue-in-cheek.
Cauty purports to have given up the heady, riotous world of rock ‘n’ roll for the gentle indulgence of a little philately, but one look at his stamps makes it plain that he is still up for a bit of establishment-bashing. They are entitled The Cautese National Postal Disservice, and are rendered so as to be elegantly believable. What better way to attack the powers that be, than by assimilating and subverting some of the nation’s most high-profile and iconic imagery?
Perfectly reproduced, so as to require a double take, the familiar image of the queen’s profile has, with the addition of a gas-mask, been transformed into both an anti-war statement and a warning about the perils of ignoring global warming (two of Cauty’s personal crusades). Other images include Big Ben suffering a similar fate to the Twin Towers on ‘5/11’ and God on a mobile phone.
Cauty is never someone to side-step controversy, and his stamp-designing shenanigans are bound to upset the Royal Mail. They may be subjected to a banning order and quickly withdrawn. In view of his aim to create collectables, such a reaction would instantly inject extra rarity value to the entire project – an astute ploy, perhaps?
Indeed, going by past experience, that’s quite likely to happen. Back in 2003, when Cauty launched his first collection of ‘gas-mask queens’, the Royal Mail swiftly stepped in and demanded that Art Republic, the Brighton gallery, withdraw and destroy the entire run, citing breach of copyright. Having made the front page of The Times, the prints were withdrawn, and the dispute still rumbles on.
After some US-based fans bootlegged those images, Cauty has risen to the challenge and perfected the painstaking task of stamp design himself. His efforts are certainly arresting – whether he’s arrested too remains to be seen. •
Cautese National Postal Disservice Specialist Stamp Shop, from 12 October to 12 November at The Aquarium Gallery, 10 Woburn Walk, London WC1