John Baldessari: Friend, Mentor, Artist, Comedian

The best artists I know are secretly hilarious. They giggle and laugh and are more often mischievious or odd or out of sync, often absurd often visual thoughts bouncing from out of nowhere in the conversation like a stray soccer ball from a neighbor. But when you take our picture, we have to look really fucking serious. Deadly serious, like Picasso.

But not John.

John was funny out in the open. He was funny in his work. One of the greats. He loved funny people. I know from funny.

I met him over twenty years ago before I had my first solo show. I was a huge admirer and his studio was just down the street. I begged for an invitation and he invited me over.

The first time I saw it I was in awe of the foam core models he had created of all the museum shows around the world in was in the process of staging featuring large photographic images with strategically placed colorful dots over the faces. He laid out the visual narrative experience like a choreographer.

John Baldessari, Kimberly Brooks, c. 2010

We decided to get Mexican food up the street and on the way I opened my trunk and showed him some paintings I had been working on or completed.

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Annie Lapin “Strange Little Beasts” Shulamit Nazarian

Artist Exhibitions
First Person Artist video series features exhibitions and studio visits of contemporary artists with artist/writer Kimberly Brooks

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The Amazing Thing About Skin

The amazing thing about skin is that there are so many different ways to depict it.⁠ Like a religion, there are many different sects and belief systems.

You can either attempt to replicate skin tone exactly, as if you’re sculpting flesh from scratch.
You can capture the ways it reflects light, against a pool and sun.

Or you can go completely off the reservation and paint it with, say, Indigo Blue, Old Holland Gold Green and white over a wash of Rose Madder:

⁠Or you can punch up the peachy reds to make the flesh aflame with golden light.  It often looks more real without the natural color.

If not Grissaille, the technique whereby Verdaccio, the method of creating a green underpainting to create shadows that complement the peachy colors above. ⁠

Nor could one neglect the importance of glazing, where one applies thin transparent layers of paint above a molded form to capture the nature of skin’s translucence.

For portion of the lecture where I discuss another curious aspect of depicting skin, not mentioned here, and a recipe to help you achieve it go to the link below:

Getting to the Ribbons of Color Faster

Painters all have a fantasy that the images in our head will flow from our fingers, brushes and minds in ribbons of color onto a surface; that we don’t pause or hesitate too much. It just comes.

We’re all angling and positioning ourselves for that moment.

Gathering knowledge and scuba diving into organic chemistry and history for my little black book about materials and safe practices, while painting, exhibiting and teaching collided.

The more I learned, the more I realized what so many artists didn’t know.

When I teach a class, It gets to the point where I wanted to just stand at the door and shoot laser beams of knowledge and concepts into people’s heads like a science fiction movie or a really cool ASMR video.

But I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

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The First Time I Painted In Oil

I remember the first time I ever painted in oil as if it were yesterday.  I was initially hesitant to use the medium for 2 reasons:​  ​First​ly​, I put it on a pedestal, as if one needed a right or permission. ​ ​Second​ly​, I knew it involved materials that were somehow dangerous.

I did it anyway. I knew then that I would be using this medium for the rest of my life.  And I was right.

But ten years in, I started to feel funny from the solvents.​ ​ There was a distinct moment I knew something was wrong.  I was working on a painting based on the palette of this Fra Angelico. I was looking for the cool rose madder glaze, the cadmium reds and indigo blues.

At the end of every painting session, I would have a weird taste on my tongue. I moved to “Odorless Mineral Spirits”, but barely felt better.​ ​If only I knew then what I’ve since learned during the illuminating journey of writing a book about the subject of everything I wish I knew at the start, the wonder of the history of pigments and particularly how to paint without solvents.

The dearth of knowledge about materials and craft among painters is an unnecessary epidemic. Either instructors assume the students learned it in a previous foundational class that no longer exists or were never taught themselves.

I created something I wished for my younger artist self: a little black book just for oil painting of all the materials I would need and why. Oil Painting Safe Practices, Materials, & Supplies: The Essential Guide is a culmination of knowledge I’ve gathered over twenty-five years of painting with the last decade focused on how to paint in the safest way possible. Thanks to Chronicle Books, it will be widely available to painters worldwide soon. For now, I’m making it available and use it as a text book for my students

Oil Painting Safe Practices Materials & Supplies: The Essential Guide

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The Creative Process in Eight Stages

I made a great big canvas. For three weeks it sat in the center of the studio like Jack’s massive desk in The Shining. No matter how many “painting miles” I’ve earned, there’s really nothing more terrifying. Of course, I have some ideas, a subject, a palette in my mind. Several in fact. But I’ve encircled it, ignored it, worked on smaller paintings instead. Finally, today, I took six different shades of pink. Some cadmium red light, rose and violet, and I just attacked it. It’s okay, I wasn’t totally committed because I knew it was just the ground of probably ten layers that will live above it. But it was a start.

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