The “Prima Facie” series began with a desire to work with language paired with photographic imagery. It is one of my ongoing concerns.

For imagery I chose to work with facial expressions. Can one match accurately a facial expression to a word? When a person's facial expression appears angry can one link the word Angry to that expression? Perhaps Troubled would be more accurate if we were to enquire. Our judgement is “prima facie,” or at first sight.

Many states or investigations of this theme followed. The series concludes with the fifth state, where the facial expression has disappeared and is replaced by pure color and the text is the paint manufacturer's name for that color, which mirrors an emotional state, i.e. Warm Comfort rather than Cadmium Red.

John Baldessari, statement on the “Prima Facie” Series from Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Five: 2005-2010

I want to produce images that startle one into recollection.

John Baldessari

John Baldessari 1931–2020

Renowned conceptual artist John Baldessari came of age in California, studying art education and art history between San Diego State College and the University of California, Berkeley. Structures of pedagogy and art historical precedent would continue to influence his work even as he made a radical split from gestural painting and moved into experimentation with a wide variety of media and modes. In 1970, Baldessari ceremoniously marked this passage with “The Cremation Project,” in which he burnt the majority of his paintings created before 1966 and then baked the ashes into cookies.

Though Baldessari consistently defied categorization, much of his work addressed the uneasy relationship between image and word. "I've often thought of myself as a frustrated writer," John Baldessari once confessed. "I consider a word and an image of equal weight, and a lot of my work comes out of that kind of thinking." He became perhaps best known for his tongue-in-cheek photomontages, which brought sardonic tidbits of punny text into conversation with found and reappropriated images. Although textual elements gradually vanished from Baldessari's work beginning in the early 1970s, the essential, underlying questions that drove his earlier work remained.

Beyond his art practice, Baldessari had a considerable influence on contemporary art through his role as an educator. He taught at CalArts from 1970 to 1988 and at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1996 to 2007, influencing an upcoming generation that include Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, and David Salle. Baldessari’s works are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many others.

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