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Artist Gary Baseman — known for his work in pop surrealism and as a commercial artist for publications like TIME, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone and as the creator of ABC/Disney’s cartoon series Teacher’s Pet — is trying his hand at documentary filmmaking alongside his creative partner and director, David Charles, the executive creator at KesselsKramer Los Angeles, an independent communications agency.
Baseman and Charles just launched a Kickstarter campaign in partnership with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and The Sundance Institute to fund the last phase of his mixed-media documentary Mythical Creatures.
The launch commenced with a celebration at the Kibitz Room at Los Angeles’ Canter’s Deli on Monday night featuring Moby as guest DJ of the event.
Mythical Creatures tells the story of Baseman’s mother and father, originally from the Ukraine, and their journey surviving the Holocaust and landing in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District where Baseman grew up. While it will document his travels to and from Ukraine to learn about his parents, it will also utilizes other artistic mediums like animation and performance as well as Baseman’s paintings, sketches and installations on the same subject.
“When I discovered my father aging and then eventually died of old age, I realized that I was the keeper of his story,” Baseman told The Hollywood Reporter. “When I realized he was passing, I realized that if I didn’t tell his story it would be lost forever. That burden became something deep inside me that I needed to tell.”
The Kickstarter campaign, which launched on July 21 and will run through August 18, has raised a little over half of the $75,000 that Baseman needs to make the project a reality.
“For every project — every art project, every film project — unfortunately you need financing and you have to find ways to make that dream happen where you can concentrate on doing the best project possible,” Baseman said. “We decided to use Kickstarter so we can control how we want to produce this film and the way we wanted to tell it and nurture it.”
Growing up, his mother was a baker at Canter’s Bakery and he remembers his father as a hardworking electrician with a great sense of humor. What was unbeknownst to him until recently was the will it took for them to survive during the Holocaust and his father’s heroic deeds during World War II. A close family member sent him a memorial book from his father’s hometown that described his deeds fighting against the Nazis in Poland (in an area that’s now Ukraine) over the course of four years.
“For me, then it became a whole exhibition of paintings and drawings that dealt with my own kind of dream reality of my family’s saga … [and] knowing that I can’t really tell his story but tell his story except through the eyes of a kid growing up in the Fairfax neighborhood,” he said.
The title, Mythical Creatures, comes from Baseman’s first trip to the Ukraine while on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach art in Eastern Europe, where he found that very residents of his parent’s home village were aware that a Jewish community once existed there. He recalls being invited to eat at a Jewish restaurant in Poland that, to his dismay, was actually a Jewish ‘themed” restaurant.
“That’s what they have a lot of in Poland also because there’s not a lot of Jews living there. It’s like going to a Mexican restaurant run by Pakistanis or going to some town and going to a Native American restaurant but it has nothing to do with people who are actually Native American,” he said.
“So I ate there, and then at the end of my meal, they gave us a little thank-you toy. It was really odd,” he continued. “The toy was a little Jewish boy holding a gold coin, and they were telling me, ‘Oh, this is for good luck since Jews are good at making money.’ I sat there looking at this thing, which I still have, and it was kind of like this Ronald McDonald toy from McDonalds in a way but it’s not. It was this Jewish figure and it blew me away. I’m like, ‘They see Jews the same that the Irish look at Leprechauns.’
Through the campaign, Baseman is offering a variety of perks to his backers, ranging from t-shirts and digital movie downloads to an original wall mural or a family portrait (to be created in collaboration with photographer Michael Muller) for the highest donors.
For 10 donors willing to donate $4,500 or more, he will paint a 10-foot-high door based on a theme in his work shown in recent exhibits at The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Taiwan, where he created home installations within the museums using his parents’ actual furniture — each room representing a theme in his body of work.
“I thought it was appropriate to call the title of the show [“The Door is Always Open”], which was a phrase that my dad would always tell me. My whole life, my dad would always tell me that his home was my home and that no matter if I was doing well of not doing well in my life that the door was always open to me. So I wanted people who were coming into the exhibition to feel the same way,” Baseman says.
More recently, Baseman presented a birch tree installation, “Mythical Homeland,” which also tells the story of his father through paintings, drawings and sketches nailed on birch tree branches. It debuted at the Shulamut Gallery in Venice, Calif. last fall, but has also been viewed at Art Dazzle in Miami along with an upcoming show in Edinburg, Scotland.
“I’ve been very successful in these exhibitions .. .I’ve been able to create work that proves it doesn’t matter what culture your from, what sex your from, what orientation you’re from…people get into it. That’s what I want. I want people to realize that art is the way we can share or culture and our narrative and our expression and really share together throughout the world. I’m hoping with Mythical Creatures we’ll be able to do the same thing,” he said.
So far, Baseman and Charles have created an 18-minute version of the film, but there’s still a great deal to accomplish, including a return trip to Ukraine to learn more about his parents’ struggles during World War II, conduct more interviews and, hopefully, create an art instillation his parents’ town “to commemorate and create a dialogue with the community.”
“With my work, [there is an] importance of being able to immerse myself into the emotions and understanding of it all,” Baseman said. “For me, it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, living within my parents story and to imagine my father and my mother and how they survived.”
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