Gary Baseman: Walking Through Walls

31 Mar

By Josh Sky – Read the full article on HEEB |

Like Gary Panter before him and Banksy and Shephard Fairey after, Gary Baseman blurs the line between fine art and commercial art. Illustration, vinyl toys, painting, animation; no medium is off limits. Past projects include campaigns for brands like Nike and Mercedes-Benz, designing the board game Cranium, limited-edition toys for the likes of Kid Robot and creating the Emmy winning cartoon series, “Teacher’s Pet,” which was also made into a film.

Compared to Baseman’s previous work, “Walking Through Walls,” on display until April 2, is darker in tone. The “walls” are within him, and the appealingly creepy images titillate and slightly disturb.

HEEB: You’ve mentioned that the title of your exhibit “Walking Through Walls” is a metaphor for your rediscovering a sense of childhood. Do you feel that you’ve found it, or did creating these paintings make you yearn for it even more? They say artists are childlike, are you?

For me, “Walking Through Walls” is about my reflecting upon my own childhood and how it influenced me as an artist and person. I was a latch-key kid who didn’t really have parents ruling over me, but for some reason, I imposed a lot of strict rules for myself because I came to believe that there was really one true way to live: be good, do well in school, have a successful career, get married, buy a house.

I created this paradigm of “objective truth” and lived within those walls. I even created my own hand sign that represented “truth.” It wasn’t until I was in my mid- to late twenties that I started to learn that truth is subjective, not objective. For me, walking through walls is about finding freedom and living life fully.

There are Jewish letters and imagery in some of these pieces. What part does Judaism play in your life today if any? What is it about the Golem that inspired you to insert it in your work?

I wasn’t really religious growing up, but we celebrated the high holidays, and I had my Bar Mitzvah in an Orthodox temple. I grew up in the Fairfax District, the Jewish area of Los Angeles. I was the only American-born child in my family, and the only one to visit Israel at ages four and twelve. I believe now that going to Israel at a young age had an important impact on my beliefs. My parents both were Holocaust survivors from Poland (their towns are now part of the Ukraine), and on both sides their parents were murdered, lost their homes, their positions, and their language. My brothers and sisters were a lot older than me. I’ve always identified as being Jewish; probably mostly through food now. I get homemade latkes every week from my mother, kreplach every now and then. During the holidays, my mother makes fresh gefilte out of four different kinds of fish, which I always look forward to.

The Golem was this mindless creature that would follow orders when you wrote “emet”, the Hebrew word for “truth”, on his forehead, so was I a child that followed this sense of “truth.”

I didn’t know about the Golem until recently. I like his Frankenstein-like quality. When I was nine, my first illustrated story was called “Gary and the Monsters,” and I created this monster called Frankinsing – because he sang alot. In the story, I become a monster too. In thinking about this early story of mine, I discovered that as a child I related more to monsters than regular people. I think it relates to being an artist, too. Being “different.” And as the Golem was this mindless creature that would follow orders when you wrote “emet”, the Hebrew word for “truth”, on his forehead, so was I a child that followed this sense of “truth.”

You tackle powerful archetypes and themes in your work, control, desire, and in this exhibit, mortality. What draws you to them? What draws people to your work?

The human condition is the easiest thing from which to draw inspiration. Everyone has pain and suffering, and I’ve translated this and other themes into humorous or otherworldly characters and images. I’m very sensitive to emotional matters, and creating art is my way of processing various issues. People are drawn to my work because even dark, serious themes are visually interpreted into playful, whimsical images.

L’chaim Gary! Putting a positive spin on dark issues.

Walking Through Walls will be open at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, 91 NYC 10011. The show closes April 2nd, 2011.

Photo Credit: Shahriar Shadab
Special Thanks: Jeff Newelt

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