Growing up with Hollywood as his backyard and having a profound love for Disneyland, Warner Brother Cartoons, and MAD Magazine, these institutions gave Gary Baseman the idea that whatever you create, there’s a possibility that the whole world would hear about it. Born and raised in L.A., Gary started drawing when he was a kid. “I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was six or seven years old. And all my teachers, friends, and family knew it. I wrote my first kids’ book called Gary and the Monsters when I was 11,” shares Gary. A child of Holocaust survivors from Ukraine, he spoke of a good childhood and a very supportive family that gave him a lot of freedom to be who he wanted to be. No one in his family was an artist; his mother worked as a baker while his father was an electrician.
During the mid ‘80s, Gary would take regular trips to New York before deciding to stay there for ten years to work as an illustrator. “I would always show my work to then Art Director of the The New York Times Book Review named Steve Heller, who’s one of the most premiered writers of graphic design. And after the third time I met with him, he gave me the chance to illustrate the cover and the full issue of the The New York Times Book Review for the Summer Edition and that gave me the incentive to move,” shares Gary. While his career was picking up in the Big Apple and was doing 12 to 20 assignments a month, his penchant for animation drew him to go back to L.A. He began working on two full pilots of The Louie n’ Louie Show, an animated short for Nickelodeon that only aired once. “I realized after the second pilot didn’t get picked up, that I needed to come to L.A. to seriously develop a series and hopefully get it in the air. But also, I was tired of the summers and the winters in New York, which were too hot or too cold.” After The Louie n’ Louie Show, Gary went on to create the Emmy Award-winning animated series Teacher’s Pet that was produced by Walt Disney Television.
“I’ve never created art for the sake of my own entertainment. My art has meaning because I’m able to connect with others. For me, the essence of life is connection.”
His creative life has been pretty hectic as of late. Together with his creative associate and director David Charles, Gary has been working on finishing a documentary supported by The Sundance Institute, The Cinefamily, and Starburns Industries called Mythical Creatures, a mixed-media documentary that will share the history of Gary’s parents as he travels to and from Ukraine to learn more about how they escaped the Holocaust and finally started their lives in L.A. He’s also working on developing the pilot for Boo, a ten-episode series that’s loosely based on one of the characters from his exhibits. “I’m excited about that. It’s a different avenue, but it will be a beautifully tragic story.”
Gary’s art is as quirky as the man. He gave life to characters like his alter ego Toby, The Wild Girls, Hotchachacha, and ChouChou, which all live in the fantasy worlds that he has created. His artworks have been featured in galleries and museums all over the US, Europe, and some parts of Asia. As colorful as most of his pieces are, it speaks volumes of his current state. It’s vital that his art connects to every person, and that it represents freedom to challenge everyone to discover themselves through his pieces. “I’ve never created art for the sake of my own entertainment. He says. “My art has meaning because I’m able to connect with others. For me, the essence of life is connection.”
“Instead of trying to strive for perfection, my art has always about been embracing imperfection and that’s what I think the best poetry in music and in literature does with humanity.”
You coined the term pervasive art, which is a term you use for a broader reach of your art. How much do think pervasive art has progressed since you started with that objective in mind?
Gary: I personally came up with the term pervasive art because art pervades everywhere, it is perceived everywhere. With the growth of the computer age, these images exist everywhere. We’re creating work that could be a painting, but also live a lifetime online that would also work in social networking, or even in books, TV, film, and vinyl toys. It’s just a natural progression for me to work in different mediums because I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. For the last eight years now, I’ve been doing more art performance, creating a situation that would have the viewer learn or discover something about themselves, finding ways to create an environment that allows people to lose their inhibition. With my exhibitions, I create environments that allow people not to be afraid, to invite people to be a part of it, and to challenge it, move within the space and not make them feel unworthy of even trying to understand.
You’ve done collaborations with brands like Coach, Dr. Martens, and Frau Blau. Up to what point can you use your artistic freedom?
Gary: As much as I can get away with. It depends on the company and what their goals are. The collaboration with Coach is beyond unique, and beyond special than any other company I’ve ever worked with. Their Creative Director Stewart Vevers basically relaunched Coach to be a very smart fashion brand. He put together an amazing team and they’re just brilliant and lovely. They gave me a lot of freedom to just develop things in a way I thought was playful, that kind of captured who the spring girl would be and Coach embraced it and then put it on clothes, bags, shoes, and jewelry.
If you could paint the perfect world, what would it be like and what type of people would you want to live in it?
Gary: Nothing is really perfect—there’s always going to be problems, there’s going to be drama and issues. It can’t be perfect because we’re human, and by definition, we’re imperfect. Instead of trying to strive for perfection, my art has always been about embracing the imperfection and that’s what I think the best poetry in music and in literature does with humanity. Instead of trying to control other people, why don’t we just embrace our differences in a way while we can still get along? If you look at my perfect world, that was in I Melt in Your Presence and Hide and Seek in the Forest, living in my own forest of wild girls, a little Chou-Chou, and my imaginary creatures roaming around.
What are your goals this year?
Gary: I have many goals that haven’t happened yet, so I’m hoping the TV series will happen. I’m hoping my documentary will finish. I’m hoping my museum show will continue to tour around the world. I’m hoping to produce more books and have some nice, strong exhibitions, a new body of work. I hope to travel and connect with others. And I hope to be able to create a stronger art structure in a way for me to be able to produce the way I’d like to. But I’m also hoping that us artists could gather together and find a way to fight and combat a new type of authoritarian threat. My background is dealing with free speech and the importance of us being able to share our ideas and thoughts. And now, with the growth of the Internet controlling what people see, it is threatening the way we deal with free speech. It’s been able to have a strong impact on people in the most negative way. My goal is to think of how we can come back and somehow lead information in the direction of making the world a better place and opening up the idea of how we share our own real ideas; not people throwing out fake information just to confuse people or just to control people’s minds.