Baldessari Chapter 1

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S.R.: I would like to start with a question about a historical event, let's call it, in your own history. What let you burn your early works in the 60s? What was this decision?

J.B.: I was a painter and getting more and more dissatisfied with painting and thinking more and more I was somehow on the wrong road. I wasn't sure what the right road was. And I had this movie theatre that was vacant that I was using as a studio which was quite large, but it was getting more and more filled up with paintings, and somehow they began to all look alike in some way. I found that disturbing and I got to project into the future that eventually I would be suffocated by having so many paintings. They weren't getting out into the world anyway. That, along with the idea that it was about the process of doing and I really didn't care so much about keeping things, and I had photographed documentation of them. So I said there was really no necessity to have these. [...] So I somehow wanted to make them all smaller somehow. I thought about photographing them and microdots and that sort of thing. But the idea of atomization here became attractive to me. Somehow I got the idea that I would not burn, but cremate them. So I actually went to a mortuary, and most of them thought I was a little bit crazy, but I found one that would do it at night when nobody was around. It turned out that the man that did the actual cremation was an artist and he really enjoyed the idea of it. We cremated all the paintings. They had these boxes for the ashes of one adult. I got nine and a half boxes, that was my total amount of painting, and then I found an urn for the ashes in the shape of a book. You see I love books a lot and I can put it on my shelf. There was a plaque made, the dates when I began painting and when I stopped painting, and then I put a notice in the newspaper, a legal notice, and that was it. And then I was off to find some other way to do art (laughs) after that.

S.R.: When was it exactly?

J.B.: That was in [...] 1968, something like that.

S.R.: So if we remind that you already did some conceptual work before...

J.B.: ... Yes. It wasn't just that I stopped doing one thing and began doing another thing, there was some overlapping. The last works I did on canvas and stretcher bars were some works, which you have in that catalogue with text and photographic imagery and text on canvas. And after that body of work I did a series of paintings that were done by other painters. They painted the painting and then I had their name lettered underneath. Those were called the »commission paintings« because I actually I commissioned various painters to paint these for me. [...] I gave them a selection of images that they could use and then they would chose one. They all have a pointing hand in them, pointing to something. [...] That was the last work I did where there was any obvious reference to art. When I'm saying that the obvious reference would be the canvas and the stretcher bars and the paint. After that it became pretty much photography, films, videos, books, posters, and that sort of thing.

S.R.: I like these commissioned paintings a lot, because they are using a specific strategy of authorship. Because you select images, but you have a full bunch of a selection and give them to another who can have his own choice or his selection.

J.B.: It's a bit controlled, but still there is some freedom in it.

John Baldessari »