Garbage! Absolute Garbage! That would have been my response and opinion of John Balderdash’s work if the field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolly was held in the first week or second week of this Art History course. Admittedly, I had to make a concerted effort not to raise that “shield of indifference” that I normally bring up when exposed to modern or contemporary art. Prior to the museum visit I did not do much research on Balladeers other than lightly glancing through his Wisped page on the Internet.
My first assumption was that he was robbery some kooky old fart that was way out there if he was making contemporary art at eighty-one years old. Considering myself a neophyte in the world or art, I did not recognize many of Balderdash’s pieces to be interesting or even eye catching save for a few of his more recent works. The ones that did catch my eye in particular was the Foot and Stocking line of screen prints as they were the the easiest to interpret and allowed me to ever so slightly gain a better understanding of some of his earlier works.
The Foot and Stocking line of photos consists of six different works depicting a lack-sock covered foot set up against a background with a combination of three different colors. In each one the big toe sticks out off hole in the sock. All six of these works Juxtapose the black sock and big toe with the trip-colored background. Another observation on the art work is that the pattern of the background is the same for all photos where there is one color filling the upper two-thirds and another filling the bottom third with a white border between on the right side of the foot between the two colors.
One noted difference is that the color combination is reversed between three groups of photos. For example, one would have purple occupying the upper portion and orange the bottom portion and the art work next to it would use the same colors but in reversed position. The other two groups used different colors but followed the flipped pattern. In all the aforementioned works Balladeers forces the onlooker to look at the big toe. It is one part of the body that is rarely seen but the large size of the photos makes it very difficult to focus on anything else but the big toe.
The flesh color starkly contrasts with the black sock so it draws your attention. The next thing I noticed was the black sock as it occupies a rage amount of canvas space so it is difficult not to notice it. Another pattern that I noticed was the use of warm/warm-cool complimentary two-color combinations between the differing patterns (Bear). Blue-Violet with yellow-orange, yellow-green with red-violet, and blue-green with red-orange (Settling and Gilbert, Living with Art 89). The colors had the effect of putting me at ease combined with the non- threatening mystery cast by the black color of the sock.
One could almost say that Balladeers injected a little humor into these six artworks even though he dispels that notion (Hanley). Overall, I think Balladeers made good use of the colors and does a pretty good Job of catching a viewers attention with the big toe. It seems that Balladeers decided to do the complete opposite of what he did in his previous works. A lot of his works older works consisted of him removing and replacing the heads of various photographs and replacing them with primary-color circles.
The main reasoning behind that was to force the viewer to focus on other parts of the picture besides the tact as stated in Saran Kirk Handle’s coverage o t Balderdash’s work in the Art:21 blob. Whether he was bored or Just wanted to do things differently he finitely achieved the opposite look with the Foot and Stocking. Instead of focusing on the rest of the picture I ended up staring at that big toe which was the complete opposite of the other works like Hedge’s Cellar line of pictures.
In those my attention was drawn to everywhere else outside of the two primary-color circles. All of them had something going on in the background which was a direct contrast in Foot and Stocking where there was nothing in the background except for solid colors so there was not that much else to stare at besides the big toes and black sock. I liked Foot and Stocking and very much enjoyed it. The black socks and big toes definitely drew my attention but the warm complimenting colors also made the work feel inviting to look at even with the distractions.
The first memories that popped into my mind was of my first deployment to Kuwait in 2001 where my unit (F-18 squadron) was sent to help enforce the Southern No-Fly Zone in Iraq. I was there during the summer months and remembered wearing thin-layer cotton socks due to the insanely hot temperature (OFF+) on the flight line. I was one of the Junior Marines in the shop so I ended up running around with my head cut off doing a lot of the manual labor. I also had this habit of not clipping my big toe nails, consequently, I went through many socks where my big toe would wear a hole.
Several times during that deployment I remembered sitting in my bunk and staring at my big toe poking out of my sock and it looked exactly the same as the pictures, with the exception that my big toe nails were a little bit longer. I was also rewarded for my hard work in that deployment. My supervisor assigned me to the last group of our unit to leave Kuwait. As luck would have it that transport plane experienced some engine trouble and had to divert to Thailand for three days. Needless to say, what goes on in Thailand stays in Thailand…
These pieces did not move me emotionally in any major way but I did experience some very fond memories which certainly helped when looking at the other pieces of art by Balladeers. When I sat down with my advisor and started picking out classes a year ago I told her that I did not want to take any art classes whatsoever to fulfill my general education requirement. Being a Computer Science major I felt that it would be a waste of time to take any art class. Prior to this course I had either a hostile or indifferent attitude towards modern/contemporary art pending on my mood.