“I go back and forth between wanting to be abundantly simple and maddeningly complex.”
Undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of our time, John Baldessari is also one of the funniest. His early explorations helped put the fun back into conceptual art just as it was beginning to drown in its own self-referential intellectualness. Using found or appropriated images, and investigating the associative power of language, Baldessari unpicks our prosaic visual culture to uncover the startling and the beautiful. He is an endlessly surprising and boundary-pushing artist, and through him the humdrum is jumpstarted into life.
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With his typical delight for the unexpected, the great veteran of American conceptual art actually started off as a painter. However, instead of moving away from his early works, he made the decision in 1970 to burn them. The action was considered an art piece in itself and was a symbolic break with the then dominant Abstract Expressionism which had prevailed since the 1950s. After burning his paintings in a crematorium he placed the ashes in an urn, the accompanying photos and bronze plague he was entitled Cremation Project.
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By ultimately bringing it back to a physical entity, the urn, plaque and photographs, Baldessari is pushing our attention towards the larger conceptual issues at its heart, such as where does “art reside?”—as a memory of a painting in Baldessari’s head or in the photos? Cremation Project was not only a clear demarcation point in his own career, but its use of the cremation—an ancient ritual—connects the artistic practice and the human cycle of life. Through it everything is created, destroyed, and lastly renewed.
The Eyebrow hangs above a door or window in a bizarre inversion of Viennese architect Alfred Loos’ desire to “get rid of eyebrows from windows.” But the piece encapsulates what John Baldessari actually stands for, taking the art world with a pinch of salt. The hairy eyebrow questions the arch snobbishness of the art world? Where’s the fun it seems to be saying? In the traditional white cube, the raised eyebrow brings a smile to the face of even the most serious art observer.
Raised Eyebrows/Furrowed Foreheads
The weathered winkled forehead of an old man is translated into the rigid colored lines that cross the remainder of plain blue forehead. A kind of minimalist abstraction that hilariously exposes how an abstract artist thinks, and the way in which we process imagery.
On top of this Raised Eyebrows/Furrowed Foreheads exemplifies John Baldessari's exploration of the human self through fragmented anatomy. Taken from the series Noses & Ears, Etc. and Arms and Legs, Etc. the works untangle the challenging relationship between the part and the whole; as Baldessari states, “I never quite get it right, because a part can become a whole, and a whole can become a part, and back and forth.”
“Artists are better at finding a way to kill their time.”
In The News: Four Young People Looking at Pieces of Paper, the multiple bullet holes on the Toyota have been offset by the inclusion of small white color blocks. In the center of the rear window the white block takes the shape of a hardly noticeable kitsch angel. In this instance the artist is keen to undermine common word and visual combinations by making entirely new associations, and by blocking out fragmented elements.
The News: Three Men Leaving House... is an absurd but hilarious collision of words and images, close enough to make you look twice at the riotous men.
“I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”
Above all other considerations, John Baldessari’s art prints for sale allow just about anyone to participate in his artwork. To get away from what is normally considered such an exclusive and impenetrable club. “I thought, What if you just give people what they want? People read magazines, and look at photographs, not at Jackson Pollocks.”
In Two Hands (With Distant Figure) Baldessari forces us to observe the interplay between the hands, and his startling combination of cultural montage. A thrilling and typically Baldessarian use of differing media sources. He endearingly calls his multiples and art prints for sale his “cheap line”, and is open and accessible to anyone who is willing to pay attention to the cacophany of visual imagery we are subjected to each day.
By playing with the vulnerability and malleability of the different mediums at his disposal, Baldessari overlaps them, producing new worlds that are intensely visual, joyful and pleasurable. A modernist L.A. skyline with the unified shields of vikings? Somehow it works, if only in its surreal connection. “I don't try to be funny. It’s just that I feel the world is a little bit absurd and off-kilter and I’m sort of reporting.” As usual he is searching for unexpected associations produced by random images in close proximity with each other.
Questioning the true definition of art, is one of his favored subjects, and though making a high-quality print is important to him, he is mainly concerned with “the imagery—in the ideas that the photographs represented.” In such a way Baldessari’s art prints for sale might just be his ideal medium to harness the tension that exists between his innate playfulness and his more earnest questioning of the value and truth of our modern day iconography.
“If I saw the art around me that I liked, then I wouldn’t do art.”
John Baldessari’s vibrant series of lithographs with silkscreen elements superimpose bold geometric structures onto organic garden forms. That jarring combination of techniques and mediums, echoes the strange collision of the artificial with the natural. Typical for Baldessari, a thrilling cross-pollination of mediums and the creative process transpires.