John Baldessari

by Chris Duesing

Conceptual pop-artist John Baldessari was born on June 17, 1931 in California. A professor and artist, Baldessari is largely known for his photo emulsion images, a special process used in contemporary art that transfers a photographic image onto a canvas or other medium.

Baldessari’s early works were largely comprised of text paintings. These paintings incorporated actual words to inspire thought-provoking responses. Feeling limited by just paint and canvas, however, Baldessari moved on to incorporate his love of photography into his paintings. His text paintings evolved into photo emulsion images that then incorporated lines of text.

There is both humor and mystery embedded in the works of John Baldessari. Understanding the power behind mass media imagery, Baldessari combined these images with a conceptual use of language. Each finished piece added a newer, broader meaning to the original words or phrases, emphasizing how relative and random phrases can be.

Photo Emulsion

Photo emulsion is a photosensitive element used for screen painting. When it is exposed to ultraviolet light, it hardens. After the photo emulsion substance is placed on a screen, it is exposed to UV light. It dries and a single colored, or monochromatic, artwork is transferred onto a special surface (such as film).

Ultraviolet light reacts on the screen, which then becomes an insoluble emulsion. As the other emulsion is rinsed away, the artist is left with the image of the artwork intended.

Baldessari draws from his photography and then later works the photos into a greater composition of mixed works. His California Map Project (1960s) incorporated photographed, physical forms that resembled the actual letters in the word ‘California,’ photographed in the exact location that the letters occurred on a map of California.

In his Binary Code Series, actual images are portrayed as information holders that represent the rhythms of binary code. In Baldesarri’s Seashells/Tridents/Frames (1988), five black and white photos are combined with oil tint and vinyl paint to create a combination of image and color.

John Baldessari Educational Background

John Baldessari studied at San Diego State University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, the Otis Art Institute (Los Angeles) and the Chouinard Art Institute (Los Angeles). He holds the prestigious title of Doctor of Fine Arts and continues to celebrate the value of education through his own teachings as a professor in California.


With his art featured in more than 120 exhibits throughout the United States and Europe, Baldessari’s work is an inspiration. “Is that art?” is a question Baldessari has asked himself again and again. He has likened art to a game; and games must be understood and played.

Some of Baldessari’s awards include:

Perhaps the best way to begin to understand some of what drives Baldessari through his creative and fascinating artwork is to understand his personal mission. During an interview several years ago in California, Baldessari explained that he wants “to break certain no-no’s and taboos for galleries, to try to jam the media world together with what we would call the real world.” And that’s just what he does, in his own thought-provoking and brilliant way.

Further Reading
Chris Duesing
Chris Duesing

I am a photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and programmer living in the great city of Chicago. I love to solve problems with technology and share what I have learned along the way.