john baldessari interview from 1973

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Roth: What kind of paintings did you do?

Baldessari: Well, I had a funny idea about art history, which was rather cloudy. When I began college [at San Diego State] I didn’t know who Matisse was, or Picasso. I remember taking a basic art history course and just being horrified at seeing a Matisse, and the instructor said to me, “You know, tastes change, you’ll probably like him!” And sure enough by the end of the year I was copying every brush stroke of Matisse. Then I got into some kind of a cross between the structure of Cèzanne and a three-dimensional configuration of Matisse, and then, working from that into some of the ideas of Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. I kept on adding things to the surface—just like Braque adding sand and collage material, I would add tar and canvas and pins to try to get more of a viscous surface going. Then I began to get into Dada and Surrealism, and saw there a way to get out from the surface, to go out from it. And then from that work—in which I sort of figured out some of the ideas of Cubism using portions of words and letters-I began to photograph torn-down buildings that I would use as source material. They provided a model for the kind of an image that I wanted. They would have bits of words in them, and I was interested in using those words, although fairly decoratively. And then I began to get billboard material, and I would do single words or parts of words.

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