Taos

Mark Baseman

This exhibition of Marc Baseman’s graphite–and–powdered pigment miniatures brought together eighteen works made between 2000 and 2003 as well as a vitrine-filling assortment of slightly larger graphite drawings and woodcut prints from 1996. The artist’s kaleidoscopic worlds—which measure two and seven-eighths inches by two and one-fourth inches—are part Dick Tracy and part Piranesi, as seen through a Pee Wee’s Playhouse microscope.

Baseman’s compositions always contain a central building, bird, or insect, which anchors the picture and causes the eye to make the circuit of its crowded periphery. In Convent Street Observatory, 2003, a pair of stout building facades are flanked by a swan swimming left and a truck traveling right as a penguin’s head pops up in the lee of a bridge. Mirrors and doubling are also essential: Baseman often edges the top or bottom of a drawing with a frieze of windows, in a Joseph Cornell–like strategy by which compartmentalization allows for serial but discrete narrations inside a frame. Sometimes the tiny panes are empty, but occasionally we get a Rear Window glimpse of head or neck and project onto the scene whatever sly meaning comes to mind.

A sense of surveillance recurs frequently via the reiterated towers and windows, but Baseman can hint at seamy themes without landing in pulp fiction. The artist also has a love of ornithology (Cornell-esque, as well)—he’s as likely to make a pigeon or raven, or moth or scorpion, his centerpiece as he is to zoom in on a crenellated tower. Indeed, there’s something absurd in Baseman’s redactions, in which human scenes shrink to miniature while specimens from nature are enlarged. Around these figures, helicopters will hover, hands will cradle fish, and someone will answer the phone. (To paraphrase Peter Sellers: This is a lot of activity for a very small room.)

Yet for all the implicit references to Hitchcock, detective fiction, and comic books, Baseman does not fall into caricature but preserves an auteurist sleight of hand. Taos during the ’90s was an incubator for a new generation of low-tech scritchers, including ex-Taoseno Wes Mills, at whose Missoula, Montana, gallery Farm Art Space Baseman also exhibits. But if you mistake Baseman’s drawings for something merely charming, remember William Blake and his dark Satanic mills. Though Baseman is not really that gloomy, his minis still give off an insidious hum.

Ellen Berkovitch