Gary Baseman’s world is populated by incredible creatures.His characters are tiny mystical beings from a parallel word.
There are bunnies named after surrealist painters, multi-headed deers, big furry cats, smiley worms, mutants, ghosts, and pretty girls. They run around in a game of tag and hide and seek in an enchanted forest in his paintings.
The protagonist of Baseman’s Saga is a character named Toby.He’s a curious oval-shaped puppet with an eye on his torso.Toby is a keeper of secrets and those who wish to unload the burden of their innermost sins or desires may do so with him.Baseman’s world is playful and at the same time eerie.There is a balance of magic and ritual in the eternally whimsical environment.
Entering the house-turned-studio of Baseman is like discovering a treasure trove.
Huge pink masks hang from the walls like the bricks holding his studio together.Stacked on top of one another they look like a tapestry encompassing all of his art.
His studio is an avalanche of colors, paper, and brushes. Art, toys, and sculptures are scattered about the space as though someone could knock into one at any moment.
On one wall in the studio is a Shepard Farey.
The red, gold, and white silk screen shows a soldier seated next to a chopped down tree. The soldier carries a shotgun and next to him is a symbol engraved with the word, “Truth.”Behind the figure is a demanding headline that reads, “Partisan.”
“That’s a collaboration we did together,” Baseman explains. “That’s my father.“
Understanding Baseman’s heritage is a key factor in understanding his fantastical world based on the word’s difficult to comprehend realities. Baseman’s characters help the viewer to better understand the human condition through a non-judgemental lens.
His characters are naive and innocent and help to demonstrate human values and morals without intimidating the viewer.
Baseman’s parents suffered adversity while living in what was once Poland, now Ukraine in 1941 during World War II. They were survivors of mass murder in a village in Poland, now the Ukraine during the Nazi rule. Baseman was born safely in the USA and his parents forbade him to visit Eastern Europe.
When Baseman’s father died he decided to go to Ukraine and he discovered that all the people in the area pretended nothing happened at the hands of the Nazi’s or that if it did happen it was because of something wrong the Jewish people did.
Now what was once a murder field is a soccer field. Everyone just covered the painful truth with their saccharine lies.Baseman decided he must tell the truth so that no one would ever forget the horrible things that happened to the jews.
His trip to Ukraine and the sculptures and installations he built there is the subject of his documentary, “Mythical Creatures.” His film has the support of the Sundance Film Festival.
Of all the things that Baseman said, this moved me the most: “In English there’s just one definition of truth. In other languages like Ukrainian, Latvian and in other cultures there are two words for truth. There’s a version for personal Truth and a version for Universal truth; Something that’s empirical and then at the same time how one understands their own truth. Two people see something and they come up with conflicting perceptions of what is real and what is a lie.”
I suggest everyone watch the movie.
Thank you Gary Baseman for such an inspiring time !
text by Fiammetta De Michele
pics by Kathrine Page & Fiammetta De Michele