In 2012, artist Gary Baseman traveled to the Ukraine as a Fulbright Fellow to visit the hometowns of his parents. While there, he learned that very few residents of the town were aware of or believed that a thriving Jewish community had made the area their home for generations prior to the Holocaust.
Soon after his return home to Los Angeles, Gary discovered a family secret that would forever change his life and art. A yizkor (memorial) book from his father’s hometown village of Berezne was sent to Gary by a close family member.
On its pages were descriptions of the heroic actions of Gary’s father, Ben Baseman, who narrowly escaped the invasion of Berezne by Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian sympathizers. Fleeing to the woods of Poland, now the Ukraine, Ben fought as a partisan over the next four years, narrowly escaping death time and again. After the war’s end, Ben met his future wife, Gary’s mother Naomi, at a displaced persons camp; in 1948, they immigrated first to Canada, and then to the United States. Ben became an electrician and Naomi worked at the famous Canter’s Deli Bakery for 35 years.
Discovering that the book existed, Gary realized how little he knew of the stories his family had protected him from so as not to burden him with the knowledge of their own experiences. Gary himself was now the keeper of these stories.
This was the impetus for his Mythical Creatures documentary project, which is supported by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Sundance New Frontier Story Lab. In 2014, Gary returned to the town to continue his investigations. The sketches were made during the journey; the paintings and exhibition are a further expression of his experience.
Provenance: Invited submission.
Los Angeles-based Gary Baseman explores the “beauty of the bittersweetness of life” through painting, performance, film and fashion. Recent projects include a collaboration with COACH ready-to-wear for the Spring 2015 Collection, a documentary “Mythical Creatures” about his family heritage, and a retrospective that started in the United States in 2013 and traveled to Taipei and Shanghai through 2015.
Baseman’s multifaceted career includes illustration for clients including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, and the bestselling board game Cranium, as well as animation for which he created the Emmy and BAFTA award-winning ABC/Disney series “Teacher’s Pet.” Baseman, with his dynamic and abundant imagination, continues to cross media platforms addressing both light and serious subject matter – fitting for today’s complex global society, where art reaches all from the digital and commercial realms to museums and beyond.