Baseman in 2009
September 27, 1960 |
Los Angeles, California
|Area(s)||Cartoonist, illustrator, painter, designer, animator|
|Teacher's Pet, Cranium|
|Awards||Emmy Award, BAFTA award|
Gary Baseman (born September 27, 1960) is an American contemporary artist who works in various creative fields, including illustration, fine art, toy design, and animation. He is the creator of the Emmy-winning ABC/Disney cartoon series, Teacher's Pet, and the artistic designer of Cranium, a popular award-winning board game. Baseman’s aesthetic combines iconic pop art images, pre-and post-war vintage motifs, cross-cultural mythology and literary and psychological archetypes. He is noted for his playful, devious and cleverly named creatures, which recur throughout his body of work.
Baseman was born in Los Angeles and raised in the city’s Fairfax district. He is the fourth child of Holocaust survivors from Poland (now Ukraine). Baseman’s mother worked at the famous Canter’s Deli and his father was an electrician. Baseman cites Warner Bros. cartoons, MAD Magazine, and Disneyland as early sources of inspiration. In junior high school, Baseman met Barry Smolin, who is now a radio host and musician, and Seth Kurland, a writer and TV producer. They remain close friends.
While Baseman is a figure in the Los Angeles art world, he is also situated within an international cultural movement that includes both mainstream and underground artists. Baseman cites Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, and the illustrator William Joyce as contemporaries.
Baseman coined the term pervasive art as an alternative to the lowbrow art label. Baseman uses the term didactically to describe a broad shift in his and others’ work to more visible avenues of art-making. He has stated that his goal is to “blur the lines between fine art and commercial art.”  According to Baseman, pervasive art can take any medium, and need not be “limited to one world, whether that is the gallery world, editorial world, or art toy world.” 
Today, artists whom Baseman might refer to as pervasive are part of a larger movement with a recognizable “pop” sense, but not necessarily a shared artistic mission. However, by virtue of where these artists are shown and in what ways they garner public attention, it can be said that all pervasive artists in some way play with the boundaries between high and low art.
Among artistic peers, critics, and Baseman followers, pervasive art referred to an aesthetic that was until recently, limited to the mediums of album art, comic books, cartoons, graffiti, and speciality galleries. Now, pervasive art is largely realized in multiple mediums and across a range of industries, from fashion design, advertising and graphic design, to toy design, film, music collaboratives, and music videos. Cult-status street artists like Banksy, new wave comics illustrators like Gary Panter, Japanese pop artists, post-punk and hip hop artists, and iconic graphic artists like Shepard Fairey all contribute to a highly visible aesthetic that is virtually ubiquitous in contemporary culture.
Baseman himself exemplifies pervasive art in that he works commercially and also remains an independent fine artist. While he creates products that are sold to a mass market, he also shows in museums and galleries, selling original artworks to collectors. Baseman employs traditional art practices such as painting, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, and collage. For Baseman, being a pervasive artist means staying true to a particular message and aesthetic no matter the medium employed.
From 1986-1996, Baseman worked as an illustrator in New York. He established himself during this period as an in-demand artist with a unique visual sense and the ability to generate sharp, witty messages. He earned several awards from American Illustration, Art Directors Club, and Communication Arts. Baseman refers to his illustration work, and to his general process, as message-making.
Baseman’s drawings have been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Time, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has had major independent and corporate clients such as AT&T Corporation, Gatorade, Nike, Inc., and Mercedes-Benz. Baseman illustrated the best-selling board game Cranium. After ten years in New York, Baseman returned to Los Angeles to explore opportunities in art and entertainment.
In 1999, Baseman exhibited "Dumb Luck and Other Paintings About Lack of Control" at the Mendenhall Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition established Baseman’s transition from illustration to fine art, during a time when many of his artist-friends, like Mark Ryden, the Clayton Brothers, and Eric White made similar moves.
Since then, Baseman has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. Baseman’s work is featured in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in Rome.
Baseman had his first major art museum retrospective, Gary Baseman: The Door is Always Open, in 2013 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. The exhibition presented more than 300 artworks (including paintings, photographs, toys, sketchbooks, and videos) in an experiential home environment in which guests were invited to sit on a sofa or at the dining room table and explore, participate and visit. The Door is Always Open has since traveled to MOCA Taipei, Taiwan (Summer 2014) and to Shanghai chi K11 Art Museum (Winter 2015).
Toby is Baseman's iconic character, an adventurous cat that loves unconditionally. Named after one of Baseman's childhood friends, Toby is your best friend and keeper of your secrets.
In 2005, Toby first appeared in drawings, paintings, and plush toys in the exhibition For the Love of Toby at Billy Shire Fine Arts in Culver City, California, marking the official beginning of Toby as a bridge between character development, toy culture, and fine art. Debuted at a crucial moment when popular culture and lifestyle strongly influenced art, Toby represents an important aspect of 21st century art: art everywhere, in multiple media and platforms.
In Summer 2015, Baseman celebrated Toby’s 10th year as a formal artwork, blurring the lines of fine art and toy culture. HAPPY TOBY TO YOU! at Hong Kong Times Square showcased works from the first Toby art exhibition, photographs, and videos of Toby’s adventurous world travels, and a birthday party sculptural installation of Toby and other Baseman characters. The exhibition was housed in another experiential environment conceptualized by Baseman and co-designed by Hjalti Karlsson of New York-based design firm karlssonwilker.
Fashion and toys
Baseman has translated many of his characters into toys and figurines, clothing, handbags, and other accessories. Prominent characters include Toby, Hotchachacha, “the little devil who steals haloes,” and ChouChou who “dispels hate and fear, and oozes Creamy Gooey Love out of his belly button.”
For toy, figurine, and limited edition projects, Baseman has collaborated with Critterbox, Toy2R, Kidrobot, Pretty in Plastic, The Loyal Subjects, and 3DRetro. Fashion collaborations include Swatch, Hobbs & Kent, Harvey’s, Poketo, and Frau Blau.
In 2015, Baseman collaborated with Coach’s Creative Director, Stuart Vevers, for the Baseman x COACH 2015 Spring Collection. The collection introduced an original series of Baseman characters (Buster Le Fauve, Emmanuel Hare Ray, Kiki, Buddy Boy, Butch), capturing the attitude of New York City and developed with the Coach girl in mind. In Summer 2015, Coach released the Baseman x Coach Wild Beast collection, featuring handbags, apparel, and accessories with Baseman’s reimagined animal print.
In 1998, Baseman created the Disney animated series Teacher’s Pet, about a dog who dresses as a boy because he wants to go to school. Baseman claims the character Spot was based on his dog at the time, Hubcaps. The series aired on ABC from 2000–2002, and the feature film of the same title came out in 2004.
The cartoon included the voice talents of Nathan Lane, Debra Jo Rupp, Jerry Stiller, David Ogden Stiers, Mae Whitman, and Wallace Shawn. The film featured Kelsey Grammer, Paul Reubens, and Estelle Harris.
Baseman won the Outstanding Individual in Animation Emmy for Production Design in 2003. The show also won 2 Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program 2001 and 2002; Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program: Nathan Lane in 2001; and a BAFTA Emmy for Best International Children’s Program in 2001.
Baseman also worked on an animated short for the Nickelodeon television series, KaBlam! The short was called The Louie & Louie Show, following the adventure of a hamster and a chameleon both named Louie. Baseman animated the sketch, and was directed by Tom McGrath. The short only aired once.
Baseman added performance art to his oeuvre in 2009 with “La Noche de la Fusion,” a mythical holiday festival celebrating the bittersweetness of existence by fusing cultures and blurring the lines of reality. Shown in 2009 at the Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City, the event featured games, live music, dancers, and live models of Baseman’s characters such as Toby, ChouChou, Hotchachacha, Skeleton Girl, Hickey Bat Girl, Bubble Girl, and Butterfly Girl.
In June 2010, Baseman presented "Giggle and Pop!" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Live action costumed ChouChous played in the La Brea Tar Pits along with performers dressed as Baseman’s WildGirls, who were renamed "Tar Pit Girls" for the occasion. The characters performed a dance choreographed by Sarah Elgart and the audience joined in with singer-songwriter Carina Round, who performed a song she composed for the event.
In July 2013, Toby’s Secret Society came alive in “Secrets and Truths,” a spectacular art performance created by Gary Baseman with choreography by Sarah Elgart, costumes by Swinda Reichelt, and music by LA- and Iceland-based Cassette Recordings Collective – arrangement by Scott Hackwith. Created in conjunction with Baseman’s The Door is Always Open exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center, the performance featured Veritas, the Goddess of Dreams, the Princess of Secrets, the Sacred Magi, and the WildGirls performing a special ritual that unveiled “Secrets and Truth.”
In February 2015, Baseman created “The Secret Order of the Camellias,” a site-specific installation and performative space at the Serpentine Gallery in London that celebrated the Baseman x Coach 2015 Spring collection. Showcasing the wild beast characters that protect secrets and represent loyalty and friendship, guests participated in a special rite of passage into the Secret Order by offering their deepest darkest dreams at the Shrine of Buster Le Fauve. Inspiring wonder and passion for life, Gary Baseman initiated an adventurous few who faced their fears and desires.
Baseman and director David Charles launched a Kickstarter campaign in July 2014 to fund one of Baseman’s personally meaningful creative projects, a film documentary called “Mythical Creatures.”
The film began in 2012 when Baseman first traveled to Eastern Europe on a Fulbright Fellowship, detouring to his parents’ hometowns which had not been visited by any family member in over 60 years. “Mythical Creatures” aims to connect the stories of the Holocaust to an entirely new generation through Baseman’s parents’ dark experiences during World War II. The film combines live action documentary elements, along with extensive animated sequences, and other storytelling techniques. Baseman says, “It's really about taking all of the different narratives from the myths I've been told and mixing them with my characters to try and find my truth," he says. "We're not doing it in a straightforward historical way. It's really an exploration of my psyche."
“Mythical Creatures” has the support of the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab and the Museum of the Holocaust in Los Angeles.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
HAPPY TOBY TO YOU! Hong Kong Times Square, Hong Kong, China, 2015
The Door is Always Open, Shanghai chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai, China, 2014
The Door is Always Open, Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan, 2014
Mythical Homeland, Shulamit Gallery, Venice, CA, 2013
The Door is Always Open, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, CA, 2013
Vicious, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy, 2012
Walking through Walls, Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York, NY, 2011
La Noche de la Fusión, Corey Helford Gallery, Culver City, CA, 2009
Sacrificing of the Cake, Urbanix, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2009
Knowledge Comes From Gas Release, Iguapop Gallery, Barcelona, Spain, 2008
Hide and Seek in the Forest of ChouChou, Billy Shire Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA, 2007
I Melt in your Presence, Modernism, San Francisco, CA, 2007
Venison, Mercado Gallery, Barcelona, Spain, 2006
Manifestations of Desire, OX-OP Gallery, Minneapolis, MN, 2006
Bedtime for Toby, Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VA, 2005
A Moment Ago, Everything was Beautiful Installation, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA, 2005
The Garden of Unearthly Delights, Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York, NY, 2005
For the Love of Toby, Billy Shire Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA, 2005
Happy Idiot and Other Paintings about Unattainable Beauty, Earl McGrath Gallery, New York, NY, 2004
Open Wounds and Other Paintings about Vulnerability, OX-OP Gallery, Minneapolis, 2003
I am Your Piñata and Other Paintings about Love and Sacrifice, La Luz de Jesus, Los Angeles, CA, 2002
Dumb Luck and Other Paintings About Lack of Control, Mendenhall Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, 1999
The Door is Always Open (Shanghai chi K11 art museum catalogue)
The Door is Always Open (MOCA Taipei catalogue)
Gary Baseman: The Door is Always Open
La Luz de Jesus 25: The Little Gallery that Could
Heroes & Villains
Delusional: The Story of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery
The 3D Artbook
Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers
I Am Plastic, Too: The Next Generation of Toys
Prepare for Pictopia
Dying of Thirst
The Upset, Young Contemporary Art
Knowledge Comes with Gas Release
My Thirst for Venison
Dot Dot Dash
Full Vinyl: The Subversive Art of Designer Toys
Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors
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