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Winter 2004
Off the Wall
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Artists can be coy about what their work means, but Baseman has no use for being enigmatic. "I’m not creating my artwork for me to be understood when I’m dead. I want to hit that zeitgeist and make a connection with the public during my lifetime," he says. Baseman’s art is about fear, anxiety, vulnerability and unobtainable beauty, the things that have tormented him since boyhood. "Creamy," a flat-bottomed ice-cream cone who sits in a pool of his own melted butterfat, is unabashedly about one’s inability to control one’s desire. "Happy Idiot," the snowman who willingly lets himself thaw for the object of his affection, a beautiful mermaid, speaks of desire and sacrifice.

"I think a certain honesty and sincerity are one of the real hallmarks of any real artist, and that’s something you immediately sense in Gary’s work," says animation critic and historian Charles Solomon ’72, M.A. ’75, M.F.A. ’83. "That’s why his work is popular and respected. When you look at it, you realize he’s not pulling your leg."

Still, interpretation remains the province of the beholder. One reviewer of Dumb Luck on Amazon.com called Baseman’s work simply "good, clean, stupid fun," while another suggested it is a "Freudian-Jungian self-examination of our hidden natures … that we try not to put on display for everyone." Publishers Weekly wrote that Baseman’s art eradicates "the boundary between sick and silly [to inhabit] a world of cute-and-cuddly depravity."

Indeed, there is a blend of high and low art in Baseman’s work, although the artist prefers to say that it "smudges the line between genius and stupidity beyond all recognition." His illustrations have appeared since the 1980s in publications like The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and The Atlantic Monthly. Lately, though, the Baseman brand seems to crop up everywhere; Nike, Mercedes-Benz, Gatorade and other big corporations use Baseman art to sell their products. The visual identity for the hit board game "Cranium" is Baseman’s work. He is in the vanguard of a burgeoning art-toy movement, creating small, vinyl pieces that he prefers to call art sculptures. In 2002, Entertainment Weekly magazine named the artist to its pop-culture "It List." He has had gallery shows in New York, Los Angeles, Rome and Tokyo.

 

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