Gary Baseman (born 1960) is a 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 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 studied communications at UCLA. He graduated magna cum laude as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society.
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 refers to an aesthetic that was, until recently, limited to the mediums of album art, comic books, cartoons, graffiti, and specialty 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.
Baseman himself exemplifies pervasive art in that he works commercially and also remains an independent 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, intimate messages. Baseman 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, Clutter Magazine, Time, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has had major independent and corporate clients such as AT&T, Gatorade, Nike, Inc., and Mercedes-Benz. One of Baseman's most lauded endeavors in illustration is 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 shown in close to twenty independent exhibitions, notably, "Happy Idiot and Other Paintings About Vulnerability" at the Earl McGrath Gallery in New York City; "For the Love of Toby" at Billy Shire Fine Arts in Los Angeles; "I Melt in Your Presence" at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco; and "Hide and Seek in the Forest of ChouChou," also at Billy Shire.
Baseman has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the US and in Brazil, 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.
Fashion and Toys
Baseman has translated many of his characters into toys and figurines, clothing, handbags, and other accessories. Prominent characters include Toby, the “best friend and the keeper of your dirty lil’ secrets”; Hotchachacha, “the little devil who steals haloes”; and ChouChou, who “dispels hate and fear, and oozes Creamy Gooey Love.” For toy, figurine, and limited edition projects, Baseman has collaborated with Critterbox, Double Punch, Toy2R, and Kidrobot. Fashion collaborations include Swatch, Hobbs & Kent, Harvey’s, Poketo, and Frau Blau. He has also designed the characters for the Cranium board game series.
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, Shaun Fleming, Debra Jo Rupp, Jerry Stiller, David Ogden Stiers, Rob Paulsen, 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. The show also won 2 Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program 2001 and 2002; Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program: Nathan Lane; and a BAFTA Emmy for Best International Children’s Program.
In 2009, Baseman added performance art to his oeuvre with "La Noche de la Fusión," a mythical holiday festival. Over two thousand attendees celebrated a melding of cultural practices and ideas. Along with games, live music, and dancers, the event featured live models in costume playing Baseman’s female characters Skeleton Girl, Hickey Bat Girl, Bubble Girl, and Butterfly Girl. Displayed at the exhibition was the Enlightened Chou, a new character inspired by Baseman’s international travels.
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 models dressed as Baseman’s Wild Girls, 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 February 2011, Baseman had his debut live performance with the independent music band Nightmare and the Cat, featuring Sam and Django Stewart and Claire Acey, at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood. Dubbed the "art jockey" for the band, Baseman paints on paper, canvas, or even on the lead singer Django Stewart, while the band plays. The following March, in conjunction with the opening weekend of his solo art exhibition, "Walking through Walls," Baseman performed with the band in New York at the Hudson Hotel, Lit Lounge, and the Ace Hotel. They also performed at the HP Mobile Park at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
- "Vicious" Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy 2012
- "Walking through Walls," Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, 2011
- "La Noche de la Fusion," Corey Helford Gallery, Culver City, 2009
- "Sacrificing of the Cake," Urbanix, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2009
- "Knowledge Comes From Gas Release," Iguapop Gallery, Barcelona, 2008
- "Beyond Ultraman: Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier," Pasadena Museum of California Art/Los Angeles Toy, Doll, & Amusements Museum, 2007
- "Hide and Seek in the Forest of ChouChou," Billy Shire Fine Arts, Los Angeles, 2007
- “I Melt in your Presence,” Modernism San Francisco 2007
- “PERVASION: The Art of Baseman and Biskup,” Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, 2006
- “A Moment Ago, Everything was Beautiful, Installation,” Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2005
- “Garden of Unearthly Delights,” Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York City, 2005
- “For the Love of Toby,” Billy Shire Fine Arts, Los Angeles, 2005
- “Happy Idiot and Other Paintings about Unattainable Beauty,” Earl McGrath Gallery, New York City, 2003
- “I am Your Piñata and Other paintings about Love and Sacrifice,” La Luz de Jesus, Los Angeles, 2002
- “Dumb Luck and Other Paintings About Lack of Control,” Mendenhall Gallery, Los Angeles, 1999
- "Dream Reality," Choque Cultural, Brazil, 2010
- Dying of Thirst, New Paintings by Gary Baseman.
- Knowledge Comes with Gas Release.
- My Thirst for Venison.
- Dumb Luck: The Art of Gary Baseman
- American Illustration 22
- Modular Populous
- Prepare for Pictopia.
- Strong Stuff: Herakles and His Labors.
- The Upset - Young Contemporary Art.
- Dot Dot Dash.
- Full Vinyl: The Subversive Art of Designer Toys.
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