“What motivates me is the elusive quality if trying to get things right....art is the only thing that gets me close to understanding what the universe is all about.”
John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images. Initially a painter, Baldessari began to incorporate texts and photography into his canvases in the mid-1960s. In 1970 he began working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography.
Most of his work plays with combinations and collisions between the narrative potential of images and the associative power of language. Found images are often collaged and worked into/over with stickers or flat coloured paper shapes. Much of the work is concerned with the nature of art in a playful manner. Other work is humorously enigmatic, turning things upside-down to make the viewer aware of how they think and show that there are different ways of understanding things.
He lives and works in Santa Monica and Venice, California.
He takes things from everywhere, and can’t throw anything away. It can all be used in art. He uses images from movies a lot. He prints a lot of images out, lays them on a big table and groups them. Some of his work is in grids eg on violence. Some is collage.
Collage takes things from here and there and puts them together. “Collage is when two things don’t go together too easily. If it’s right there’s a kind of tautness there that if you pull them apart any further it’ll snap. If you get them any closer it’ll be just flabby. But if you can get it just right it’s terrific.”
He is interested in signifiers eg clouds are ephemeral, they change shape and we see things in them.
The important thing is to hold the audience’s attention eg image of table and shark. Things must be dissimilar enough to be intriguing.
He often plays with different ways of combining text and image. In his Prima Face series he produced large square diptychs of image and text. In the first ones he just put simple captions that described the colours of the image. The next he put captions that made assumptions about the meaning of peoples’ expressions. The third he put opposing interpretations of expressions for the viewer to choose. The next he put a list of synonyms and so on…
Some of his best known work is where he puts flat coloured cutout shapes on photographs eg people climbing up buildings. The bits he cuts out are those elements that people are most interested in, thus focusing on things we do not normally notice. One body of work are photographs of civic officials at events where he covers their faces with round coloured shopping stickers to focus on their postures instead of faces.
Some of his recent work uses vibrant colour and takes a more low relief 3D approach to collage.