The paintings of John Baldessari are pictures about real life

Written by By Christine Persaud, CNN

Los Angeles artist John Baldessari’s newest album, “Living an American Life” (2018), marks his 10th studio record and continues the multi-faceted artist’s approach to research.

Baldessari uses his private research to create different pieces in each album, analyzing the lives of US-born citizens for inspiration.

Of the dozens of subjects Baldessari chose for this fifth album, 12 are celebrities and small-time celebrities.

“I’m trying to get to know the people you encounter every day in the world,” he said of his process.

Of his eclectic collection of subjects: Dr. Seuss, Martha Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, David Copperfield, Janie Bryant, Julia Child, Joe DiMaggio, Grace Kelly, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jane Goodall, Irving Berlin, Doris Day, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Henson, Ralph Lauren, Robert Redford, Judy Collins, Gloria Vanderbilt, David Cassidy, Vladimir Nabokov, “The Twentieth Century,” Alfred Hitchcock, and Candice Bergen, among others.

Baldessari has always been a relationship artist. Each of his albums share a love story that reveals his techniques and common themes. The two most recent albums — “We Love the Computer” (2012) and “The Way to Recycle” (2013) — depict their favorite relationships. The iconic film noir stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall represent the photo-studio owner, Bruce Rayner. Baldessari’s own photos show daily life with friends, those “I sometimes get to know every day,” as he says.

Meanwhile, Baldessari’s own images show ways to express his love for this series of subjects. From iconic Hollywood heads to pre-Internet doodles to violent portraits, his visual compositions converge in each album.

“I work to give each living person its own space and dimension, so their pictures can live within myself,” Baldessari said.

The Los Angeles-based artist often visits his subjects for their input.

“I’ve had conversations with people for many hours about me, their private life and how I can see that in a room,” he said.

Whether celebrity or otherwise, Baldessari’s images communicate unique experiences that even this frequent visitor finds difficult to articulate.

“The pieces are absolutely compelling,” said Vanessa Hessler, curator of modern and contemporary art at The Rubin Museum of Art in New York.

“The imagery is so detailed and so colorful. The physical space the pieces take up is generous in terms of number of rooms. It’s quite stunning.”

Hessler edited the album, organized the “living” elements. Baldessari used various photographic studies to accompany his subjects’ photos.

Curators at Vancouver Art Gallery featured the album in a recent exhibition, and it continues to be displayed in the museum’s archives, alongside a limited edition physical album.

The book — which sells for $150 — also features a bonus photo: Richard Nixon in all his glory, with a light show nearby.

Baldessari has painted and photographed many cultural icons over the years. In 1978, his series “Unidentified Artist” fetched nearly $7 million at auction. While Richard Nixon’s mustache, twinkling eyes and wizened skin mesmerized the museum, his impure “attractiveness” not so much.

“Things can be so weird. I was thinking of almost asking Nixon if he might open a punchbowl,” Baldessari said.

“They wanted to give Nixon a cigar — and he was holding a whiskey — instead.”

Leave a Comment