Once a year, at "Post It," every piece of art on display is equal. It doesn't matter if you're Gary Baseman or a student at Art Center. Your work will hang among a couple thousand other 3"x3" pieces inside West L.A.'s Giant Robot 2. If it sells, it will go for $25. You'll split it 50/50 with the gallery, in typical art show fashion. When the line of people finally filters inside the gallery, there is as much of a chance they will pick up the up-and-comers piece as they will set their sites on the established artist.
Last year, James Jean, the artist who rose to fame with his covers of comic books like "Fables," submitted a piece anonymously. Eric Nakamura, who owns GR2, was the only person who knew that Jean's Post It art was in the show. He watched as one person after the next passed by it without much notice. Finally, later in the evening, someone purchased it. "Some person who bought it, bought it because that was a piece they liked," says Nakamura. "They just liked it and they bought it and it turned out later it was a James Jean small art piece." That's part of the fun of "Post It."
Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson, two L.A.-based artists who also teach at Art Center, launched "Post It" nearly a decade ago. They started out at a now defunct space called Junc Gallery and, back then, the idea was to bring together comic book artists. The show as originally called "Post It Notes from Zine Culture," a reference to the underground, independently produced works that are integral to the history of the comic book. After that first year, they moved to Giant Robot 2, a gallery whose own roots are in the zine world. (Giant Robot began life as a zine in the 1990s.) The show grew larger every year. Now with its ninth edition opening on December 7, "Post It" has become something of an L.A. tradition, an egalitarian exhibition, not just for the artists, but for the patrons.
"We always liked the idea that art should be affordable and accessible," says Watson via email. Of course, there's another price for entry and that's standing in line. Todd notes that they get calls from potential customers wanting to buy every one of a single artist's Post It's prior to the show. That's not allowed at this cash-and-carry event. Even in person, there are rules about purchases. "You can't buy more than one from a single artist at first," says Todd. "You have to get back in line to buy another one." That line can be a long one too. Nakamura described last year's line as similar to the queues you'll see for a Black Friday sale. "We actually had people lining up from 6 a.m. last year," he says. That's for a show that doesn't open until 6 p.m.
There are hundreds -- literally, hundreds -- of artists from across the world who contribute every year. Many submit more than one Post It. Some bring in more than a dozen tiny works. In 2012, there were 2500 pieces for the show. This year, there are at least 300 artists providing a still unknown number of Post Its. And in a city filled with high-profile artists, there are, of course, some big names on the bill. Audrey Kawasaki is confirmed to be a part of the show. Gary Baseman has already shared his Post It art on Instagram. Baseman is a regular in the show and often churns out a lot of art for it. "For him, it's almost like giving back in a way," says Nakamura. "He's totally giving back to people who love art."
Kiyoshi "Lucky" Nakazawa is one of the artists who contributes to "Post It" fairly regularly. "The format that it's displayed in democratizes the artists in the sense that one artist doesn't get the headlining wall space with the huge frame to anchor the show," he says. "Every artist is sharing the same amount of space."
The nature of the show, that it's all work presented on a Post It, finds common ground between a large and eclectic group of artists. "Everyone doodles," says Nakazawa. "Everyone can relate to that, the Post It Note doodle."
From his perspective, it allows the audience to take a much more active role in observing the show. "It allows the viewer who walks into the space to play the investigator and really get into the wall space inch by inch searching for things that they like and learning about the art form rather than going to see the art show with the headline artist and breezing by the lesser known artists," he explains. "By default, you have to look for what you want. In that same way, you get exposed to artists that you might not have ever seen."
Nakazawa's work encompasses both fine art and comics and that's evident in the pieces he contributed to this year's "Post It" show, which make use of Zip-a-Tone, a pre-digital way of adding halftone to illustrations. Nakazawa made ten pieces for this year's show. He worked on them in between his other jobs, drawing on the stack of Post Its he had stationed hear his desk. He goes through a lot of Post Its for this show.
"If I don't like it, I toss it and I redo the same one," he says. "The actual one that you see on the wall might not have taken more than an hour, maybe two hours, if I include the Zip-a-Tone. What took a long time was the two or three times on versions that I threw away."
These aren't just quick sketches from the artists. Throughout the interviews for this story, the word "masterpiece" kept popping into conversation. Todd refers to the works as "3"x3" masterpieces" with sincere sense of awe. "I kind of like that idea, the high/low idea of putting something amazing on something pretty common," he says.
Even better is that these beautiful works often help people enter the world of art collecting. "I love that some people start their art collections with a Post It or give art as gifts," says Watson. "The best feeling as a curator, is to see art go to [a] good home, to see the huge smile when someone has waited in line and is holding that one Post It out of the thousands they were hoping to get."