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Winter 2004
Off the Wall
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Baseman made the leap from the world of illustration to television in 2000 with Teacher’s Pet, an ABC/Disney-produced cartoon about a dog who disguises himself as a boy. Though it never attracted a huge audience, the cartoon ran on Saturday mornings for three years and earned Baseman three Emmys as art director and executive producer. The professional recognition was especially sweet for Baseman, who had suffered a stinging setback in the mid-1990s when Nickelodeon declined to pick up either of two pilots into which he had poured several years’ worth of creative energy.

Discouraged but not defeated, Baseman left New York, where he had worked as an illustrator for 10 years, and moved back to Los Angeles, determined to try his luck at TV again. Last January, Disney released the feature-film version of Teacher’s Pet. Baseman again co-executive produced and art directed, handing writing duties to Cheers veterans Bill and Cheri Steinkellner. Despite rave reviews and stellar voice work by Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer and others, Teacher’s Pet bombed at the box office. Still rankled, Baseman blames the dismal performance on poor marketing.

There are certain similarities between Baseman’s work and that of the Pop Art movement. But the effect is completely different. Pop artists took images from advertising, the celebrity world and comics and put them on canvas as wry commentary on society and culture. Baseman, who works mostly in acrylic and oils, similarly uses images of popular culture but flips the ironic detachment on its head. Baseman incorporates the icons into his life, using them as alter egos. He paints himself as a cat, a dog or an evil mouse. "Gary Baseman is one of his paintings," writes Rob Clayton, a fellow member of the pervasive-art movement.

Back in his studio, Baseman is growing slightly irritated. He is trying to explain why a guy who appears to have so much would adopt the persona of an abject loser, dunce and idiot. Baseman fishes inside a file cabinet for a photograph and hands it over, as if to say, "If you don’t believe me, look at this."

 

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