Postcards from the edgy

If you find yourself receiving a postcard from Detroit artist Michael Segal, you’re apt to see paradoxes from the world of physics. You’ll see abstract philosophical constructs as cartoon characters, and cute little kitties dressed as cute little kiddies. And with the current total number of postcards he’s produced now well into the hundreds, plenty of you have seen or bought one of his index card-size color marker works.

Next Wednesday, an exhibit of 200 or so of Segal’s postcards will kick off the new, somewhat obviously named art series at the Motor City Brewing Works, “This Week in Art,” curated by Graem White.

From a consumer standpoint, Segal’s postcard works have a couple distinct advantages: 1) They’re cheap (he just now, after 16 years of selling ’em for $5, upped the tag to $10), and 2) they’re ideally suited to apartment life — sized perfectly for easy thrift-store framing and bathroom walls (as in, “Hey, I just saw one of your postcards on so-and-so’s bathroom wall,” a relatively common reference Segal says). From an artistic standpoint, though, the postcards are mini-escapist fantasies — complex enough to invite multiple meditative takes and gestural enough to evoke an immediate response. Many of the works recall art nouveau worthies such as Klimt, as channeled through a graffiti artist with a particularly whimsical sense of humor.

Segal started creating the postcard-size art in 1987 “because of the ease,” he says. “My style is cartoony and doodley, so just as a matter of practice I would sit and draw on available paper, notepads, index cards, etc.

“I settled on the index card because the thickness and size gave it some value as an art piece,” Segal says. The 4-by-6-inch dimensions also made it easy for him to tote his portfolio around from place to place. “I’d carry them around, pull them out and show them to people. I’d watch them flip through the stack, with varying looks — pleasure to perplexity. I knew I had something.”

It was after a successful first show at the now-defunct indie java, music and art joint, Zoot’s Coffee, in 1990, that Segal knew he could sell his artsy wares. “The appeal was the quickness, the stream of consciousness, the cheapness, but the vast availability to all was what really hit. To this day people come up to me and tell me about a card they bought 10 years ago, and describe it to me, ... sometimes I even remember it.”

Lest you think Segal’s postcard work is the outpouring of some savant, it should be noted that the man has a degree in fine arts from Wayne State University, and over the years he has established a high profile as an illustrator (his design company, LookGroup produced the logo from last year’s Comerica TasteFest) and poster artist. Some of Segal’s rock poster art, in fact, will be featured in Chronicle Books’ upcoming anthology, Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion. His illustrations have appeared in magazines from Raygun to local design-high-watermark flipper Clear.

His works have been featured in solo shows at the detroit contemporary and at the annual sex fest-cum-Motor City art extravaganza, the Dirty Show. (Segal notes, “I’m known to include naked women in my art.”) It was his postcard art, though, that led to one of his more high-profile gigs.

Sam Valenti, head honcho of acclaimed Ann Arbor record label Ghostly International, was always a big fan of Segal. Valenti used to frequent Neptune Records — an independent record store that Segal co-helms — while still in high school, and over the years, amassed quite a collection of the postcard art. The relationship between the two blossomed when Valenti started up his record label and tapped Segal to be the in-house illustrator, designer and “aesthetic pillar.” Segal designed Ghostly International’s Idol Tryouts album cover and did the artwork on the Dykehouse Chain Smoking 7-inch and Midwest Product’s World Series of Love. He also designs many magazine ads, flyers and T-shirts for the now-famous label.

So hurry up and get your own piece of Segal history. Who knows, by this time next year, it might cost you an Andrew Jackson worth of pay.

Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Motor City Brewing Works, 470 W. Canfield, Detroit; 313-832-2700.

Send comments to Chris Handyside at [email protected]