On Fences, John Baldessari, and Why I Love Making Art

I come from a background in drawing and painting.  I’ve spent a good amount of my life studying art and art history.  Many people think art history is boring, but nothing could be further from the truth.  And one of the most fascinating aspects of art history has been the study of symbolism in painting and sculpture.

I love symbolism. I love that, in a painting, a dove usually isn’t a dove, but can mean so many different things: peace, freedom, the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes several things at once.  Many objects that people put into paintings, like specific flowers, fruits, a bowler hat, all of these can have loads of meaning attached to them. And it’s not just objects, colors are often symbolic as well.  Things are usually red for a reason.

Then you get into more modern art, and it all goes wild.  Obviously, the Surrealists took symbolism to the next level.  People like Dalí, de Chirico and Magritte, just to name a very small few, really infused their work with layer upon layer of meaning.  Then came even more conceptual artists. I remember the first time I saw the work of John Baldessari.

This guy blew me away.  His seemingly random placing of colored dots on seemingly random snapshots at first put me off.  Was he having a laugh?  But, his art is the type of art where if you start asking more questions, especially the “Why” questions, then his pieces really start coming alive.  And, he has a fantastic sense of humor, often missing in a lot of “fine art”.

I usually don’t pull the artsy-fartsy card when talking about my work.  But, lately, I have been consciously looking for more complex content for my work.  I’ve been asking myself the “Why” question a lot more before I’ve been pulling the trigger.  Especially for work like this:

1964 Ford Thunderbird

Most people just want to see the car.  That’s what I found about this photo.  Man, they say, if only that fence wasn’t there.  But, you know what?  I like the fence.  More importantly, I believe the fence is symbolic.  It means something, it adds a dimension to the picture. What do fences do?  Keep things in, keep things out, define territories.  That adds a layer of meaning to this picture.

I think this photo is about barriers, decay, and what is out of reach. It’s about how things that once were desirable can become much less so, especially if they are locked away.  Maybe it’s even about lost dreams, and things left behind in order to move on up in the world.

I believe there is a load of meaning here.  I really love this shot.

Obviously, I didn’t arrange this photo.  I didn’t put the car there, or build the condo complex right behind it.  And, I didn’t plan to be there at just the right time for the right light.  As with most photography, it was just plain dumb luck I was there.

Luck.  Up to a point.  As a photographer, I saw that there was something there, and from the plain dumb luck of being at the right place at the right time, I was able to use my instrument to try to capture that scene, arrange it just right within the frame.  Know when to click the shutter.

And, I hoped that there was something that other people could read into it.

When you watch T.V., you have little control of your mind.  Everything comes at you loud, fast and very controlled.  However, when you walk into an art gallery, hardly anything comes at you.  It mostly just sits there on the wall, or on a pedestal.  Waiting for the viewer to come and start seeing it.  Thinking about it.  Asking it questions.  Digging into it.  With television, the viewer hardly does any work.  With art, the viewer is charged with doing most of the work.

And that, more than anything, is what has attracted me to art throughout my life.  It’s not what I get out of it, it’s what I get to put into it.

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