Monday, April 12, 2010

Concept inspiration: John Baldessari

John Baldessari photo © 2007 Sidney B. Felsen

For those of you who read my blog mainly for the tutorials, I promise that one is coming soon. But if you also like inspiration, you'll be seeing several posts this month about creative minds doing conceptual work. First up: coneptual artist John Baldessari.

I'm skipping the bio (you can get that at the links) and giving you a few examples of his conceptual work. Maybe one of them will inspire you:
  • The first time he used photography in his work was on a project where he looked at the letters C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A on the map, drove to the precise location of each letter, made that letter on the spot out of found objects, and then photographed it. I wish I had thought of that (but then, I was a newborn at the time so I had other things on my mind).
  • The relation between text and image is a recurring concern in his work (I could go into pedantic mode about the relation between his work and that of various surrealists, but this is supposed to inspire ideas, not sleep.) I love "the pencil story" from 1972-73 (on a side note, don't you find dual dates strange? I mean, it's two pencils and some text, pick a year. Unless he made this on New Year's Eve, I'm just not buying the two dates thing):
(In case the text is difficult to read here it is: "I had this old pencil on the dashboard of my car for a long time. Every time I saw it, I felt uncomfortable since its point was so dull and dirty. I always intended to sharpen it and finally couldn't bear it any longer and did sharpen it. I'm not sure, but I think that this has something to do with art.")

  • Long before others were doing it, Baldessari worked with found photography. He would raid the garbage bins of photo processing companies, for example, or simply rip photos from a dictionary. Sometimes he overpainted the images, other times he used them to create collages. Once, he took photos from TV shows, asked his assistant to write a one word caption on or below each photo, and then organized the project into a visual dictionary.
  • He collected a series of movie stills and made grid-like collages of heavily cropped sections. In one work, he gathered images of people's hands pointing guns.
Kiss / Panic, 1984, Medium black and white photographs with oil tint
  • He often adds bright round circles (like price tag stickers) over the faces of his found subjects
(buy this and others at the Barbara Krakow Gallery)

And finally, here's a little Wikipedia excerpt about Baldessari's conceptual games:
"Baldessari has expressed that his interest in language comes from its similarities in structure to games, as both operate by an arbitrary and mandatory system of rules. In this spirit, many of his works are sequences showing attempts at accomplishing an arbitrary goal, such as Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line, in which the artist attempted to do just that, photographing the results, and eventually selecting the "best out of 36 tries", with 36 being the determining number just because that is the standard number of shots on a roll of 35mm film."

The point in this and future posts on conceptual inspiration is not to give you ideas to copy, but to try and appreciate how one artist's mind works, to get you thinking about and reacting to that work, and from that thinking/reacting....who knows?

Want to read more about Baldessari?
Read the X-TRA interview.
Read Wallpaper's article about the recent Tate show and watch the slide show.
Read the Smithsonian's oral history interview with Baldessari.
Another interview at Art Review.
An interview with Seesaw magazine that I find particularly interesting.

Don't want to read?
OK, watch an interview.

Want to buy a book?
I recommend Pure Beauty. I own it and I love it.