Baldessari observed that "people carry around ideas of movies in their heads," and, by exploiting film stills, he taps into the collective unconscious of the modern viewer. Although a devoted cinephile, he favored the stills, not out of any love for Hollywood but because they were inexpensive found images in endless supply. "I never go to stock places where they have the stills already arranged in categories. I want to feel like a gold miner, and I don't want the gold given to me." Among the categories he established, two that emerged early on were kisses and guns. Here, a representation of the former, the only part of the composition in color, is surrounded by gun-toting hands, at once threatening and protecting the embrace within—and perhaps also instigating the panic of the adjacent crowd. For all his flouting of convention, Baldessari calls himself a "closet formalist," and the tight rectilinear organization of Kiss/Panic owes something to the abstract canvases of the Dutch modernist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944).
John Baldessari (American, b. 1931)
Kiss / Panic
Gelatin silver prints with oil tint on board, in eleven parts; 80 x 72 in. (203.2 x 182.9 cm) overall
Glenstone© John Baldessari