Gary Baseman grew up in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles – his mother worked at Canter’s Deli and he attended Fairfax High. You’ll recognize his imagery from the cover of the box of the popular board game Cranium, from the animated television show, Teacher’s Pet – or, if you are like us, you might be vaguely familiar with his signature character Toby, a perky red and white cat-creature with a skull on his cap and evil eye emblazoned on his chest, superhero style. We were pretty curious to know more about this quirky character.
Baseman’s first career retrospective, The Door is Always Open, on view currently at The Skirball Cultural Center, pays homage to the cozy home and community in which he was raised. After cruising around the show/house, we were glad to get to know this quirky Angeleno. Baseman, an artist, illustrator, animator, and toy designer produces whimsical, colorful work with a consistent exuberance which appeals to all ages, and the show is staged as a visit to his childhood home. Come up for a visit sometime between now and August 18 and see what we mean.
You’ll start outside the “house”, where plastic plants are set up outside a faux front door and walk right into the family’s living room – with Baseman’s real life Emmys on the mantel, his bar-mitzvah photos on a sideboard, and dinner set for Passover dinner. The couches look comfy and the whole environ is welcoming, especially if you listen to the artist’s generous welcome video in which he explains that his parents always made him feel welcome in their home. Have the kids slap on the earphones and listen to Gary talk – if they’re lucky, they might even see him wandering around the show. Despite his world travels with Toby (you’ll see pictures of this appealing little guy with Buddhist monks, with a statue of Stalin and hanging at Randy’s Donuts), Gary loves to stop by the show and watch folks go through his “home”. You can even buy chocolate chip rugula from Canters at the cart near the Zeidler Cafe.
The bedrooms are covered in the most incredible wallpaper – which is available for purchase in the gift store! The game room has Cranium set up so you can enjoy a quick game, or watch Teacher’s Pet on TV. And, you can spend some time wandering around Gary’s work room, examining the many iterations of his ideas. Kids will get a sense of how an idea comes to fruition, and if they are willing to listen to what the artist has to say about some of his works in process, they may get the idea that art is much more accessible than they think. Gary’s work is so close to his roots that visitors can imagine his creative process and he encourages everyone to pick up pencil and pen and unleash their own creativity. It’s the opposite of intimidating or elitist, which makes it particularly child-friendly.
Kids will also enjoy the back yard, full of some fun performance pieces and a few films Baseman made as a young man. It’s all very endearing. Be sure not to leave without really understanding Gary’s relationship with Toby, including explanations of the fez, the skull, the all-seeing eye and the soul patch.
And just in time for the creative exploration of summer – why not use this show as a kick-off to the lazy days of summer? Let the kids spend some leisurely time in the art making room set up just for young folks.
ART MAKING Opportunities:
Family-friendly projects inspired by Gary’s creative world — Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m., and on select summer days.