essay: Free Ears part 3 (unfinished) ID ART -Rick Potts

While Chip was up at Cal Arts, Joe was going to Cal State L.A.

getting an art degree. In fall of 1975 he along with friend and

fellow artist, Waynna Kato, got their B.F.A.s and started grad school

at Otis Art Institute. The three schools shared a lot of faculty and

guest lectures only Cal Arts with its deluxe facilities cost much,

much more.

The California Institute of Arts sits like a

castle in the hills outside the city. Back then, before the golf

course and tract homes filled in, the hills were ala natural, which

translates into weeds. The Cal Arts castle did a magic trick as you

approached on I-5 from the city. It appeared on a hill as you leveled

out after climbing a couple thousand feet above sea level, then as

you dipped down into the meadows the castle sank and disappeared. It

was actually on the next hill up and dropped behind the first hill as

the perspective changed.

In contrast Otis sat in the heart of the city. The once nice

neighborhood, where earlier on bankers and their families strolled

around MacArthur Park (of someone-left-a-cake-out-in-the-rain fame),

was slowly dissolving into a funky barrio. The neighborhood bums and

druggies shared the park and streets with retirees who played chess

and checkers at picnic tables and refugee families with baby


A while later, they drained MacArthur Park’s man-made lake exposing

decades of discards. Years of ‘offerings’ had sunk to the murky

bottom including plenty of handguns, knives and other weapons. An

artist collected dozens and dozens of muddy shoes of all shapes and

sizes, which he displayed in a neat pile on campus.

Otis was on busy Wilshire Boulevard, a main east/west vein from the

heart of downtown L.A. out to the ocean in Santa Monica. Ironically,

Cal Arts had sort of morphed out of another art college, Chouinard,

which had been only a few blocks away. Now the whole neighborhood was

slipping. The art world was changing with the use of many new

mediums. Artists were finally getting access to video and audio

equipment. Boundaries were being trampled for better or for worse.

There was an anything goes kind of freedom that was open to anything

but the same old crap. Artists made music or films, too. It was all

the same. Ideas were more important then technique. Concepts were, at

times, replacing art objects. There was a rebellion against the

gallery system that was parallel to the DYI music scene that was

growing outside of the giant record companies.

Joe Potts contributed a crucial tactic to the LAFMS in those early

days. His idea was to adapt a common Hippie business model of the

sixties where buying in bulk brought the price down. Dudes, who

pitched in and bought a large amount of “granola” and than divided it

and packaged the portions themselves, got a righteous deal on

breakfast cereal by cutting out the middleman. It’s called communal,

man. Artists of the day were cutting out the gallery middlemen by

making a series of small multiples and mailing them out to each

other. Joe and his production partner Waynna twisted these concepts

and created several editions of I.D. Art. Originally, the idea was a

way for the new students to meet and get to know their fellow

students and teachers. Instead of going around the room doing the

“say a little something about yourselves” routine, they proposed a

book of narcissistic self-portraits by fellow students as a way of

everyone introducing themselves.. Faculty and some friends were given

flyers that invited them to participate and explained their scheme.

The deal was each person had to print their own standard sized pages,

fifty of them, for the edition of fifty. These pages would be

collated and bound into a book. Most of the pages were just straight

from the Xerox machine or P.I.P, a printing chain that was Kinko’s

before Kinko’s. There were exceptions including some sewn in fabric

on one page and most notably Chip’s contribution which included a

firecracker taped to the paper with ‘Baby, you’re a rich man, too”

written across the page.

After a funny session of running around the Kato family’s dining

room table making stacks with the pile of stuff people submitted, it

was Waynna’s task to find a place that would bind them. Explaining

the eccentricities over the phone, she found reluctant businesses

giving prices that were adding up to hundreds of dollars. Back then

you had to rely on the Yellow Pages and word of mouth to do your

research. For a day or so there was no solution until finally Waynna

tracked down another shop to try. She gave her spiel again only this

time the person on the phone thought it was funny. The firecracker

was hilarious. They could spiral bind them for a buck fifty each.

Like Bikini Tennis Shoes, the covers were scavenged by Chip from

his job at Cunningham Press. Off-register postcard sheets with messed

up versions of stodgy portraits from the Huntington Library worked

great as covers for this book of narcissistic self-portraits. The

spiral bound books came out great. Everyone in the book received a

copy and the extras were sold to recoop some of their costs. Waynna

and Joe wondered “what next?’

After the success of I.D. Art the next project connected the I.D.

Art concept with the Bikini Tennis Shoes breakthrough. I.D. Art 2 was

a record.

Joe figured if eight dollars was charged for every minute of time on

the record, a forty minute record would take in enough money to fund

the 200 copy pressing.. Participants receive four copies of the

record for each minute they bought.


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