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Opening May 2, 2009 at Corey Helford Gallery, Culver City

by Jody Zellen

In Gary Baseman's work whimsy and fantasy collide. He depicts imaginary figures who are part human, part animal, creating worlds that are drawn from the real yet could never be lived in. His landscapes are brightly colored places where clouds have faces and animals, flowers, and trees occupy the same space at the same scale. While Baseman's rendering skills are excellent, he assumes a casual style in his drawings and paintings, allowing drips and spills to remain in the finished works and giving them a uniqueness and spontaneity that would not normally be seen in commercial illustration.

The current exhibition, "La Noche de la Fusion," is inspired by Brazil's Carnivale. In these works new characters such as "Carnival Girls"  and "ChouChou Buddha" dominate the canvases. While seemingly playful, these paintings are inspired by tales of desire and intrigue that come from living life on the edge--the last kiss, the final breath--that exists in a mythical realm. Baseman draws from the hidden depths where the unspoken and the perverse coexist with laughter and joy, and thus infuses his figures with an unsettling joie de vivre. For example in "Pink Carnival Girl," a wide eyed beauty holds out her arms. She is naked from the waist up, dressed in a full skirt made of what appears to be yellow fruits, which she also holds in both hands. Her breasts have been turned into creatures whose eyes and tender smile is contrasted with the girl’s more terse expression. Perched on her head is another face, a hat/creature that obviously weighs her down. It is unclear whether Carnival Girl enjoys her role as a dancer. She is placed in a pink landscape that is set off by darker shades, yet if she performs for an audience, none is visible in this painting.

“Pink Carnival Girl,” 2009, painting.

“ChouChou Buddha,” 2009, painting.

“Blue Moon,” 2009, painting.

Baseman's characters are drawn from his travels and inspired by different cultural rituals he has observed. Taking cues from local customs and costumes, he creates specific roles and personalities for his characters. Speaking about one of them, "ChouChou Buddha," he states, "Eventually I discovered a deity creature who can melt all the arbitrary boundaries away. . . This new, all-seeing, all-knowing presence goes beyond the removal of fear and insecurity. He gives us complete freedom to know no limitations in our consciousness. He is an Enlightened Chou. It resembles my ChouChou character, only he has three more ChouChou heads on top of his head. It’s all part of fusing these different cultures and ideas together." In his recent painting of "ChouChou Buddha," the bear-like Buddha sits centered on a purple-blue ground holding brown deities in each hand. His light pink suit is decorated with drawings of flowers and skulls. The figure seems unaware and unconcerned that a "gooey" liquid flows from his belly. If he has special powers, they are not communicated here, rather the painting is a sympathetic portrait, one that evokes wonder rather than awe.

"Blue Moon" is at once tender and sad. The melancholic moon drools into the arms of a long haired baby who floats in a dark blue space among the clouds. She looks up, concerned at the moon, hoping to both comfort and support his unknown ills. Baseman's work has an immediate appeal based in his sensitivity to the emotional impact his characters have. He paints them in such a way as to communicate that they are complex and not merely there to charm.

In addition to paintings the exhibition also features new drawings rendered inside vintage books that Baseman acquired in the course of his travels. Written in Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese, he overlays drawings of his characters onto the pages, allowing the original texts to bleed through and direct both the meaning and the composition.

Gary Baseman straddles the line between commercial and fine art. He is well know as a maker of toys, as well as the three-time Emmy award winning creator/executive producer of the animated series and film, "Teacher’s Pet." He is a former cartoonist for The New Yorker, Time, and Rolling Stone, not to mention the designer for the best selling game "Cranium." Baseman coined the phrase "Pervasive Art" as an attempt to blur the line between fine and commercial art, and he has been able to make works for both worlds--trying not to think of what he does as one or the other, but allowing one thing to lead to another without regard for whether it is made for a commercial or fine art audience.