Technicolor lines shooting out of a black background. A massive composition of straight lines which, feathered masterfully, arrange to form the downy pelage of a cougar, lion, or bear, the dense feathers on a falcon or eagle. Bright neon; pinks, blues, greens, yellows, no color that would actually occur on this animal in nature, adding to the allure. Something unrealistic but, with a texture that is so pleasingly tactile, you feel as if you could reach out and touch it. Snapshots turned into neon signage portraiture, wild animals glimpsed out of the vaporous ether.
This is the work of Baso (pronounced Bah-so) Fibonacci. That’s not his real name, no, but his artistic moniker. It represents the synthesis of philosophy, aesthetics and technique that he uses to create his work.
“Baso was a Zen Buddhist in the early China Zen period, and Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician. I’ve been into math since I was younger, and I studied Zen Buddhism a lot when I was younger as well. Baso was one of my favorite Zen Buddhists.”
Most of the animals he paints are native to the northwest and were familiar to him during childhood, growing up on Tiger Mountain. He has been showing around Seattle since 2006 as a painter and a muralist. You might have seen one of his installations outside of a gallery. For most of 2013, a psychedelic raccoon stood on Second Avenue and Main in Pioneer Square. About eight feet tall and twelve feet wide, the curious critter was a beautiful onlooker to the otherwise drab corner.
When I interviewed him at his studio in Pioneer Square, Baso Fibonacci was working on a four foot tall tiger. To create his larger pieces, he works in segmented fragments, one portion at a time, which seem abstract individually, but create an identifiable whole when observed together.
“When you step back and look at it, it makes sense. But when I am painting it, I am not paying attention to the whole. I am paying attention to where I am painting at that exact moment. It’s really meditative. Once I actually get into painting for a while, usually things slow down, and it’s meditative, almost like knitting. Depending on where my thoughts are at the time, sometimes I just want to get finished.”
Hearing him talk about it, I imagine a Japanese Zen garden, the care with which a monk forms patterns in gravel, the catharsis of such working methods. Baso Fibonacci is using modern tools and media to create his works, of course, sourcing digital images, painting sometimes on Plexiglass, and using large scale printers to plant the foundation for a work before he even picks up his brush.
“I start painting a couple layers. The ones on Plexiglass, I’ll do with nine colors. I start with darks, I go to mediums, and then do lights. I will do darks, mediums, lights, then darks, mediums, lights. And then paint the back of it black and finish it with the same, dark, medium, light.” When looking at his art, one may notice that the balance of color adds dimension to the fur and feathers, in a way that would be difficult to accomplish without blurring detail. “I go around the color circle in a triangle so no color is next to each other that is similar. Like greens and blues don’t go next to each other, and yellows and oranges aren’t next to each other. I try to keep the three colors like the three darks, the three mediums, and the three lights, as separate as possible, which creates a unity. Once I started doing the animals it just made sense.”
“I still have a very mathematical mind, very process oriented. When I start a style, I stick with that style for a while.”
Baso Fibonacci attended Evergreen State College for two years, but he is cavalier about the idea of credentials and education for artists.
“I don’t even think I got my degree. I finished it but I never got my diploma or anything. I thought, ‘What am I going to do with it?’ I think it was a focus in fine arts. And, it seemed like a worthless degree in my field. I learned a little bit there, but not 20,000 dollars worth.”
“I don’t think people need to [pursue a liberal arts degree]. I think it can be beneficial not to. [Although] I think learning to draw is really, really important for a visual artist. Every visual artist should know how to draw. I don’t, which is something that I would love to learn how to do. If I were to go back to college, I would probably go to Gage academy or one of their ateliers and learn. Drawing is so important and it hinders me a lot, not knowing how to illustrate. I don’t think you need art school. I consider myself self-taught. Lots of times it can hinder you. If you are only following what your teacher says, then you may end up in a direction where your art looks like everyone’s.”
He considers his style closest to Impressionism, with hints of street art. Indeed, even the palette he uses above the black is reminiscent of the florid pastels of the Impressionists, but the paint itself is of the street. The medium he generally uses is one shot, a fast-drying oil enamel favored by sign painters. He paints on Plexiglass, glass, and canvas. On canvas, his media often is more varied, including spray paint and collage, which he wheat pastes onto the canvas. He has cultivated a look that is beautiful and never boring.
“It’s for aesthetics. My art is based less on ideas and more on aesthetics of how things look. Animals lent themselves to the next step in where I was going in my process. That’s what I have been doing for a while, but I am trying to get out of doing animals because I have been doing it for the past couple years. I feel like I am getting into a formula, and I need to try to break out of that soon. It’s like venturing out into the unknown, taking a different pathway. It’s something I need to do. I’d like to stay somewhat in the same style of painting, but find something else to paint that excites me more.”
He later explained, “I think you see a lot of artists where they get a certain style that people like, and so they try to replicate that style, or a certain song that people like so they replicate that, and they lose their creative drive, and get on a feedback loop.”
The artist has already demonstrated a knack for changing direction without complete reinvention, preserving things that he values, including his early years practicing graffiti and street art before moving to painting. He reflected that a trip to Barcelona provided the initial inspiration that led him to become an artist.
“That place is incredibly artistic. They have really good art museums, public art everywhere, graffiti and street art, the street art there is amazing. Three story pieces that are done illegally with just ladders and long rollers.”
He was there for five weeks in 2003, skateboarding and writing graffiti with a small group of friends. It was the first place he attempted to sell artwork, which he painted on reclaimed boards and windows he found on the ground when he was low on cash. When he was broke toward the end of his trip, he was out late at a skate spot, “like a museum of modern art out there,” where he learned about a squat and was invited out.
“It was this castle north of Barcelona, in this green mountainous area. And the castle was abandoned but they had running electricity and running water and a bunch of people were living there, and they had a small space for travelers. One day we smoked weed and went to the top of the castle, and all the towers and the roof were done by Gaudi’s assistant. It was wearing away but you could definitely tell it was the same person. It was beautiful.”
Moments like that fostered his transition into the style he is known for today. Baso does installation work, like the ceiling hanger paintings he made for Bishops Barbershop in Belltown, and the gigantic piece completed with Zach Rockstad and Japhy Witte for the Capitol Hill Light Rail. Still, he has refocused much of his energy away from street art.
“I do some street art but, I hate that word. Street art is kind of like skateboarding and rollerblading; graffiti is for skateboarding and street art is for rollerblading. It’s always been a corny genre to me. It’s like they are both doing something in the streets but the graffiti artists are trying to be more destructive and anti-social, whereas street artists are trying to beautify the surroundings. I think there are opportunities for street artists to do good things, but I don’t think it’s happening in our region. Most of it is dumb cartoons, stickers, and so I don’t like to associate myself with that genre.”
“One street artist I really like in Seattle is No Touching Ground. He’s been the only street artist I’ve really been drawn to. All the stuff he does fits into the surroundings. He thinks more deeply about his art than most people that I know do. It all takes a lot of time. He doesn’t just draw on a sticker and put it up. He takes a long time, and thinks about his placement, and everything fits, you know? The intent and the aesthetics.”
Baso is still humbled and inspired to work harder by artists of all stripes. He names Barry McGee, who in the 90s in San Francisco also began with graffiti, as a particularly profound influence. In some cases, Baso Fibonacci realized in retrospect the ways in which McGee’s work had affected him.
“Some of these mirror paintings I was doing, patterns on mirrors, I realized later were inspired by Barry McGee. His output is incredible. He can fill a museum with his shows, tons of different types of work. I admire his diligence, his aesthetic, his attitude. Everything about the guy is great. He is really good about what he does, super humble. It’s really interesting, when he does his museum talks, he will do a slide show all about graffiti and he’s so excited about it.”
“I also really like Van Gogh. I think that may have been somewhere in my mind, all of the Impressionists’ work. Duchamp is one of my favorites of all time. He completely changed the art world in his own way. He’s one who never did the same thing. Nude Descending A Staircase compared to Fountain, those are different mediums, different everything. I also like Jesse Edwards’ stuff a lot.”
It’ll be exciting to see where Baso takes his work next. The artist’s work and contact information can be found online at www.cargocollective.com/baso