Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gary Baseman Bitching

I was a sophomore at Massachusetts College of Art when I first heard about Gary Baseman. He was giving a talk at my school and there were posters true Baseman style. I attended his talk and I was truly enlightened by the work that he was making. He was an illustrator, TV show creator, and fine artist all wrapped into one! He had it all. I followed his career and loved studying his paintings/illustrations. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't influenced by him...even a little bit. In some ways, Gary Baseman inspired me to make the type of art that I want to make, even if I was working with a professional client.

The turning point came for me in 2004. Gary Baseman was speaking at the ICA in Boston, so again, I decided to trek out in the cold and hear what he had to say. The talk started as the curator was working out some technical kinks with the projector. Gary Baseman stood at the front of the small theatre with his sketchbook in hand. He was doodling as we all watched...somewhat awkwardly. He looked up, held out his sketchbook, and said, "Oh sorry, I have a deadline for Time Magazine in two days." There was something about that comment that left a sour taste in my mouth. In some ways I haven't looked at Gary Baseman's work the same.

Why? Well, I don't think he's pushing the envelope anymore. Yes, his work is everywhere. It's in galleries, on designer toys, and he's still illustrating for major publications. Yet the content of his paintings are getting old. They all look very similar. Same characters, similar color palettes, and similar themes. I noticed it more than ever today when I was flipping through his new book. I was a little bored. I dare say that he is trapped within the box that every artist is sacred to be locked in. Maybe this is unfair for me to say, but it looks as if he's on auto pilot just creating these for the next big gallery show. I could be wrong. See similarities below:

I'm sure he has made more money than 99% of commercial artists. But at what price? Here's a little poem that I love. This may be bold attributing this to Gary Baseman, but hey, this is America.

He found a formula for drawing comic rabbits:
This formula for drawing comic rabbits paid,
So in the end he could not change the tragic habits
This formula for drawing comic rabbits made.

Even with all my ranting and raving, I still admire Baseman's body of work and self-promotional skills...I just wish he'd mix it up a little.


JoeyCee said...

ah the veneer was washed away...

Bob Flynn said...

Hey Dave! Thanks for shooting me an email. I have you in my RSS reader, so I would've jumped on this anyway. I blogged about Baseman myself, though for different reasons:

Gary Baseman

I met him once when he came to Boston, only for a couple minutes. He basically told me to move to New York if I ever wanted to make it in the biz. You are basically right about him, even though I believe the world of illustration is full of one-trick ponies. He's in that tradition, but is also different in that he basically IS a brand. Tim Biskup, Audrey Kawasaki, Camille Rose Garcia....(I could keep going), all fall in that camp to greater or lesser degrees. Baseman is an easy target, but a lot of illustrators are following his approach—creating a style that is so strong that it becomes bigger than you. And then they start cranking out the same kinds of images over and over.

I like to think of my style as evolving...never pinned down to drawing heads or eyes or bodies in one way. You don't want to just develop a bag of tricks and keep pulling from it.

Great post, Dave.