Over the last century, art has taken more twists and turns than the several centuries prior. Artists have aimed to continuously challenge the idea of art and its making among the communities of creators and consumers, however, this took a new form starting in the mid-1900s with the rise of the Dada movement and continued to take new forms and shapes up to and including the present day. This gave rise to numerous artists who have shaped the creative world as we know it today: Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and countless others.
Among these artists include artist John Baldessari, a mixed medium expert whose use of countless techniques and subjects has shaped our idea of art and its creation process; his use of appropriated art, found photographs, combinations of previously divided mediums, and creative means of isolating focal points and important aspects of images.
John Baldessari was born in National City, California in the year 1931, the general area he will spend the majority of his life.
In his young adult life, Baldessari would attend San Diego to receive his Bachelor of Arts in 1953 and his Masters of Arts in Painting in 1957. From there, Baldessari would go on to exhibit in over three hundred solo shows and over a thousand group shows between the United States and Europe (Baldessari). This level of exposure is an accomplishment on its own, testifying to the success of Baldessari as an artist. Aside from his impressive amount of exposure, he has also received numerous prestigious awards for his work: the 2014 National Medal of Arts Award, 2016 an award from the International Print Center New York, memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 2012, and the BACA International in 2008, as well as honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland, San Diego State University and Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design (Baldessari).
Baldessari was an extremely decorated artist, adding weight to his tragic departure from this world on January 2, 2020, when he passes away in his home due to unknown causes. Baldessari’s career took many turns throughout his 88 years of life. (Finkel); from his start in the medium of painting, through the cremation of his work at the midpoint of his career, to his vow to never create boring art again that immediately followed and kickstarted his creation of unique works that pushed the boundaries of art.
Specifically noteworthy pieces of work by Baldessari include Nose Elbows and Knees (2006) and Yellow, from Stonehenge (with Two Persons) (2005). These images were created by Baldessari from found photographs and the use of price tag stickers and paint (Tate). These works depict people doing normal tasks such as eating an apple ionNose Elbows and Knees or two average individuals site seeing in Yellow, from Stonehenge (with Two Persons).
These works may seem slightly distinct in the subject matter, however,r they go hand in hand through their use of the medium. Baldessari’s process for these images was unique for artists before and even including the time of their creation; after finding images that spoke to him in some way or another, he would cover the faces of the people in them, often with price stickers that he just so happened to have on hand. Baldessari states his reasoning for the price sticker was that the faces of the individuals would often frustrate or upset him after intense studying, making the creative process difficult to continue. After one day of work, he angrily covered the faces of a few specific photographs with stickers to avoid having to look at them any longer. Upon doing this he realized that the components of the image he enjoyed had nothing to do with the faces of the subjects, but instead the subtle details such as posture, surroundings, and actions. This process, much more than the finished product, is an interesting piece of these works.
Baldessari’s work comes to life not because of who is shown in the photographs, but rather from the subtle beauties of the scene: the lack of attention the man in Nose Knees and Elbows pays to the women as he bites into his apple so cleverly placed in the near center of the image, the way she so desperately grabs at him to earn some sort of attention, or the sense of adventure felt in Yellow, from Stonehenge (with Two Persons) from the clear outdoor presence that is emphasized by the intense yellow figure that can be identified as Stonehenge. The saying “less is more” carries great weight in his images as he can reduct necessary information to guide the viewer’s eye to the aspects that engaged him when first coming across the images. This technique had been used in numerous ways among different mediums through the use of bokeh in photographs and the addition of detail in other mediums tcreateates the same effect of excluding information that distracts from the focus, however, it had rarely been seen in mixed mediums.
This use of excluding information by blocking it out with large and solid colored shapes is effectively used to draw attention to the important elements that Baldessari aimed the viewer to become attracted to.
Aside from his reputation for formal decisions in his work, Baldessari is an artist known for the vast amount of work he has created throughout his career. The greatest example of his ability to mass produce work was his series Pure Beauty (2009). Pure Beauty is a collection of work from the entirety of his artistic career consisting of roughly one hundred and fifty images (Studio International). Pure Beauty is mostly a collection of found images that incorporate paint to achieve the effects mentioned in the previous paragraph, however, the series as a whole takes this to a new level through the repetitive use of it. Few artists are able tcanork at that volume, especially in a cohesive manner the way he did. This level of output was unmatched by other artists leading up to him. The only well-known exception to his is Andy Warhol, whose dedicated museum alone contains over two thousand six hundred physical copies of their work(The Andy Warhol Museum). Warhol is an artist who has been praised since his death for his ability to mass produce work, and the ability to match the output level is a credential that he is deserving of despite being formally credited for it. Many artists take years to work on each artwork, taking the time to carefully refine it over and over again, however, Baldessari choosing to follow in Warhol’s steps on this matter is a portion of what has made his work so interesting.
The ability alone to create this magnitude of work is impressive, but to also create original and engaging work is a rare talent among creators. Baldessari’s work has managed to engage viewers through his creative problem solving to isolate the important material in his artwork at high levels of output rarely seen in the fine art industry. These aspects of his work are what attracted me to him as an artist and have been my largest source of inspiration for his work. John Baldessari was one of the most influential artists to have exhibited work in the past several decades and aided in the shaping of how to view art and its making. Even the small detail in creating works such as in Yellow, from Stonehenge (with Two Persons) of how he added the sticker initially to block out the face he no longer wished to look at out of frustration is striking in the way he stubbled across the tactic he would use for hundreds of artworks to follow. In my artwork, I struggle to stray from original ideas and concepts I come up with, trapping me into the idea in its infancy. Seeing the creation of successful works such as this and how it was born from an unintentional choice serves as a reminder that art is a process, and that the idea and concept should evolve as execution is taking place.