You know you've seen the works of Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup, but you don't know where and how. Was it at Grand Central's "Satan" show? Was it somewhere else? When you're looking at their cartoon world—world, singular: they work individually but share a style so wholly they're as indistinguishable as Shmoos—you're struck with a nagging dj vu. but have you seen their actual characters, or have you just seen something similar in the paintings of Shag? Who did poisoned toylands first, Biskup or Camille Rose Garcia? Where does Paul Frank fit into all this? What about the homicidal PiggyBear of Snezana Petrovic? You know Baseman paid homage to the Groovy Ghoulies with his Weebolo-style Circus Punk toys, but who's been paying homage to him?
If you don't have a doctorate from the Juxtapoz School, then "Pervasion" at the Laguna Art Museum can be a little frustrating. Who begat whom? How did they get here?
Our generation is stunted—anybody could tell you that. The silent stoics of World War II didn't keep plastic Happy Meal crap on their office desks. The Boomers gave up Howdy Doody when they discovered sex. But Gen X can't let go of its toys—the best part of Reality Bites,with the abortion that was Ethan Hawke as the love interest, was the camera lingering on Ben Stiller's collectibles. And you have no idea how much of the Weekly's work day is taken up with discussions of Adult Swim.
Biskup and Baseman are happy to help—Biskup with "Helper" and Baseman with "Toby"—and happy to part you from your money in the process.
Misshapen little innocents, la Voltaire's Candide, Toby and Helper nonetheless star in bloody scenes of cartoon disembowelment and scary fascist marches, always with that blissful smile of pure retardation. Part Itchy and Scratchy, part Mark Ryden's visions of macabre childhood, and part a hundred other forebears too, Toby and Helper can come home with you in a myriad of ways.
"Pervasion" is supposed to be about the artists' willingness to get their work out in any way possible: cartoons, toys, mass merchandising. It seems a slim peg to hang an exhibit on, as if LAM's curators were afraid to show toys and cartoons without some theory right behind them. The most satisfying part of the exhibit—besides a clutch of stuffed Tobys climbing the gallery wall to the second floor balcony; once you're up there, you realize they're joining a whole fascist army of hypnotized Toby clones—is a glassed-in case showing notebooks full of sketches for toys, twinned with their small plastic avatars, the finished products. One tiny toy wears a shirt with the legend "I can smell you bleeding." Another: "I know all your dirty little secrets." I would be happy to buy those for the children of friends, and theory isn't necessary in the slightest.
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Of all the artists adhering to the Juxtapoz Weltanschauung—a.k.a. the permanent collection of Long Gone John—it's probably Snezana Petrovic who most successfully fulfills our longings for cartoon pain and suffering. Biskup and Baseman talk about it a lot, with Baseman's Enjoy and Suffer and Enjoy or Suffer. But their disembowelments and plucked out eyeballs don't come near to matching Petrovic's gore. Showing at Irvine Valley College last year, Petrovic offered a troop of pink bunnies and a weird, Pooh-like "PiggyBear" stabbing and killing one another in new and exciting ways (a Hustler-esque meat grinder, a two-headed knife like a bi-girl's version of the dildo from Se7en). Her show "PG-13" was The Velveteen Rabbitupdated for Quentin Tarantino times. And The Velveteen Rabbitwas no picnic to begin with.
Baseman and Biskup are more subtle with their creatures that look like full, used condoms, and their daisy chains of sexual congress—always implied, never actually penetrative. Petrovic was never shy about that.
"Pervasion" is entirely enjoyable. Its gore and fright doesn't go far enough for me—I prefer my art more Degenerate—but Gen X can go, feel right at home, and pick up something from the gift shop on the way out the door.
"PERVASION: THE ART OF GARY BASEMAN AND TIM BISKUP" AT LAGUNA ART MUSEUM, 307 CLIFF DR., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 494-8971. OPEN MON.-FRI., 11 A.M.-6 P.M.; SAT., 10 A.M.-8 P.M.; SUN., 10 A.M.-6 P.M. THROUGH SEPT. 24. $8-$10.