William Basso (Painter)

William Basso Art: An Interview with William Basso


I find something alluring about William Basso's artwork that I find unable to comprehend. Merging contemporary and surrealist macabre and at times horrific images with Renaissance and Eastern European styles, Basso creates evocative and timeless pieces. There is nothing incredibly disturbing about his works. In fact, one would not be able to say there is anything gory or gratuitous about them. His artworks, however, have a fascinatingly nightmarish quality about them - so subtle and yet so powerfully affecting. Classic yet at the same time unconventional, I have always found myself disturbed by some of his works and yet incredibly drawn to them. They incite me to perform a self-exploratory exercise as I assess my conflicting reactions towards them - in my opinion, a mark of a true artist. I had the pleasure of learning more about him, his inspirations, and his works.

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I think that throughout history there has always been a fascination with macabre art. One reason may be that it’s a way for us to help deal with our own feelings of mortality.
How and when did you first get started as an artist?

My parents are both artists so when I was growing up, I was surrounded by all kinds of art on the walls, art books, etc. as well as being exposed to museums and galleries. I ended up going to art college where I majored in illustration...however, I decided to pursue a career in special effects and character makeup for the film industry. As a kid I loved movies, especially horror, fantasy and science fiction. I also loved horror movie magazines like “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and although I liked some super hero type comics, I gravitated more toward titles like “Creepy” and “Eerie”. I had a rich foundation of not only the influences of my artistic home surroundings but also of my own imagination sparked by the pulp fantasies and nightmares of pop culture. So of course it made sense to get into the film industry. After almost twenty years working in films I became interested in creating graphic art once again and began to explore my own personal point of view.

What is the most challenging part about creating your artwork?

To continually improve it. It can sometimes be difficult to avoid falling back on things that can come too easily. When that happens, you’re not growing as an artist.

Favorite or most inspirational place where you live?

I lived in Los Angeles for many years, but I’ve recently relocated to NJ, which is where I grew up. I’m fairly close to New York City, and for me that is an incredible source of inspiration. Not only the city itself, but the large number of museums and art galleries of course.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

Be true to your work and your work will be true to you.

Why do you think there is a growing interest in macabre art?

I think that throughout history there has always been a fascination with macabre art. One reason may be that it’s a way for us to help deal with our own feelings of mortality. By depicting our fears and anxieties, especially in regard to death, we may be able to come to terms with some of these abstract emotions, giving them a kind of “face”. Also, over the past several decades, horror, sci fi, and comic book based films and TV shows, have become wildly popular. They have become a big part of our culture, and I think that this has influenced the market for macabre or fantastic art in a big way.

Can you describe your artistic process when creating your art pieces?

I’ve always been interested in drawing, sculpture, painting and photography and it’s by combining all of these that I create my work. I use the camera and the computer as artistic tools like any other. I usually start with drawings to design my concepts. This is followed by sculpting and constructing a series of miniature, doll-like characters or maquettes, as well as a variety of intricate handmade objects that I then photograph. These objects and constructions are made from a variety of materials such as clay, cardboard, string, paper, wire, tape, wood, hair and odd bits of cloth. My photographs are then processed in the computer. Each composition is made up of a number of these different photos as well as my scanned drawings, all composed and manipulated using Adobe Photoshop software.

I print out sections of my imagery and, using collage techniques, build what will become the final assemblage on a surface of canvas, panel or paper. The collaged pieces are cut, torn and altered. I also work into this assemblage with paint, pencil and other mixed media, which adds a layered patina of color and texture resulting in a unique, one of a kind piece.

My purely sculptural work is created much like my working maquettes, although they are usually more involved and because they are stand alone works they’re typically taken to a more complete state.

My work is shaped by many different things, but I think a lot of my influences are based on the past as filtered through my own imagination. A kind of distillation of many different ideas, memories and textures which all contribute to a somewhat antique or even decayed feeling found in my work. When I say the past, what I mean are things like early cinema, paintings from earlier centuries, curiosity cabinets, early photography, etc. Also, I like the feeling of a more primitive technology...things such as gears, ropes and wooden planks nailed together. A hand made sensibility. I like the aesthetics of a theatrical world populated by my doll-like or puppet-like characters and beings. My working methods also have an influence on the stylized flavor of the pieces, in that I’m creating and working with various objects and hand made characters, almost like staging a theater piece or film production. The notion of transience and decay also creates a mood that ties into things like the season of autumn. I always loved the autumn and Halloween time which also factors in as an inspiration, particularly in the retro or vintage sense. The theatricality of masks, costumes and all of the stylized, macabre imagery is very inspiring.

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