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John Baldessari

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Interview with John Baldessari
by Nicole Davis

Nicole Davis interviewed John Baldessari in his studio in Santa Monica, Ca., on Apr. 12, 2004.

John Baldessari: So, fire away.

Nicole Davis: What led you to become an artist?

JB: I always had this idea that doing art was just a masturbatory activity, and didn’t really help anybody. I was teaching kids in the California Youth Authority, an honor camp where they send kids instead of sending them to prison. One kid came to me one day and asked if I would open up the arts and crafts building at night so they could work. I said, “If all of you guys will cool it in the classes, then I’ll baby-sit you.” Worked like a charm. Here were these kids that had no values I could embrace, that cared about art more than I. So, I said, “Well, I guess art has some function in society,” and I haven’t gotten beyond that yet, but it was enough to convince me that art did some good somehow. I just needed a reason that wasn’t all about myself. Read more

John Baldessari is an American conceptual artist. After studying art at San Diego State College (1949–57), he began to develop his painting style, soon incorporating letters, words and photographs in his works. By 1966 he was using photographs and text, or simply text, on canvas as in Semi-close-up of Girl by Geranium … (1966–8; Basle, Kstmus.). From 1970 he worked in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography. His work is characterized by a consciousness of language evident in his use of puns, semantics based on the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss and by the incorporation of material drawn from popular culture. Both are apparent in Blasted Allegories (1978; New York, Sonnabend Gal.), a series combining polaroids of television images captioned and arranged to suggest an unusual syntax. Baldessari differed from other conceptual artists in his humour and commitment to the visual image. He dramatized the ordinary, although beneath the apparent simplicity of his words and images lie multiple connotations. We LOVE him!

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