Michael Leigh – “Things have certainly got a lot worse since those halcyon days of my youth. But politics aside, the world is still a great place”

I’ll be happy to peek into your collection. You are a huge mail artist! And a collector of mail art stuff… so you’re a friend of my friend Vittore Baroni? And you got in touch also with Genesis P. Orrige or other musically related mail artists?

Glad you could have a look at my blogs and collections of stuff. Yes, I’ve been mail arting since 1980. Vittore Baroni was one of the first I made contact with and it’s a great pleasure to still be in touch with him and a few others though my participation has waned somewhat over the years since the internet came along . I have collected things all my life and hate to throw stuff away, so our house is crammed with all kinds of stuff including records, tapes and CD’s etc. I’m sending a few pictures so you can get some idea of the chaos here! Nothing is in any order. I didn’t know Genesis P. Orridge although dabbled in some musical mail art back in the 80’s and 90’s – hosted a project on the theme of “PEACE” – all participants got a CD-R  copy of all the tracks. Also the Thematic Tape Exchange was another of my projects – compiling themed tapes and swapping them through the mail. It was a lot of fun back then. Now I mostly concentrate on my Collage work. Anyway I look forward to your questions.

Michael Leight (2)

A laboratory, a closet, a colourful home exhibition of posters, records, unusual objects, all packed (and maybe glued, considering the amount of adhesive stripe and glue-sticks that emerge from every corner) together. Does anyone but you dares to enter that place? It’s amazing and my impression is that the edges between the things that you collect and just read/listen/observe and those that pass through your hands to be used in collages and artefacts are very subtle…

Yes, probably a rather shocking assault on the senses to come into a small room like my studio/workroom to find so much stuff piled high all around – avalanches of books and CD’s etc. are not uncommon! We try and keep the rest of the house less overwhelming but I’m afraid we are a family of magpies who like to collect all manner of things and so the clutter covers most walls and even some ceilings!  I always warn people who want to see my work space that they risk serious arty overload!  I feel very much at home amongst it all I must admit – making my mail art and collages – need a constant source of material at my fingertips and also the inspiration of music.  I’ve collected records for the past 50 years or so since an art student back in the 60’s and only now trying to make space on the shelves by selling some of it on eBay. Now the vinyl market seems so popular again. Books and magazines are piled high and cheap at boot sales, flea markets and charity shops which is useful for collage material. Now and again I have to have a purge and take some to the tip or the charity shop to make room for more. And so it goes…

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Peter Sellers: when I watched your blogs and some of your creations, one of the first things that came into my mind was the British genial humour of the Goons, who are not really popular outside from UK (apart from Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau/Dr. Strangelove and his other incredible incarnations).I suppose you’re a huge fan, right?

The Goons were very important to my generation in the 50′ s and 60’s – helping us through the greyness of those post war years. No only Peter Sellers, but Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine who went on to carve out careers on TV, stage and screen. I have most of the Goon shows on record and CD so able to re-live my childhood whenever I want! Humour is important in art too – one of the reasons I enjoyed my time mail arting – finding like minded souls to keep me amused whilst starving in my garret (a pre-fab in Stepney, East London) during the Thatcher years when we all needed cheering up! Who will cheer us up through the Brexit years?

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I agree, these are dark ages, with Brexit, Trump and the other narrow minded governments around the world. Open minded people, and artists in particular, may have to find or make things to cheer them up, as you say. You also mention to “re-live your childhood”: collage art often digs into the past… and tries to give a new and different point of view on a certain picture. You say that in your family you all tend to collect many things… Do you think that buying and collecting records is a deeply nostalgic attitude? My friend and musician Giuseppe Ielasi said time ago that he hates nostalgia and he’s scared of it, so he tried to avoid the past. So he’s one of the few musician that I know that doesn’t own may records, he keeps buying and selling at a very speedy rate. I’m trying to learn from him, and I feel in fact better now in giving away. A rather ‘oriental’ attitude I may say…

Things have certainly got a lot worse, it seems, since those halcyon days of my youth.  I tend to look back rather than forward – being 70 my last birthday I don’t have much choice! But politics aside, the world is still a great place. So many great artists and musicians – hope for the future despite the pickle we find ourselves in. Lots of nostalgia in collecting records for sure and for most things – they all remind me of certain time and place, or an alternative time and space! When digging in the crates and musty boxes at boot sales and charity shops you never know what you will find – it’s the luck of the draw. I was very lucky back in the 80’s when I lived in Stepney, in East London before it was all taken over by big business and yuppies. Back then there were still very cheap flea markets near Brick Lane and Cheshire Street where most records and tapes could be picked up for pennies. That’s when I accumulated most of my collection. Books , magazines and ephemera too for my mail art and collage making.


Michael Leigh grew up in the home counties around London during the 50’s and 60’s. Went to several art schools including Southend, Chelsea and Manchester. Trained as a painter and printmaker but now mostly using collage. Collect novelty songs and old mail art amongst other things too numerous to mention.


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