American artist Gary Baseman has a storied career in his own right and has also worked for elite industry brands including Disney and Nickelodeon. But more importantly, Baseman spent nearly 15 years of his life with his best friend, Blackie the Cat.
During Blackie’s recovery from health problems that progressed in his advanced years, Baseman started documenting his regular strolls with Blackie on Instagram. Blackie the Cat quickly became infamously known as “The Greatest Strolling Cat” and played host to his very own Blackie the Cat Show. But on August 22, 2020, Blackie’s soul left this Earth. Due to Covid, Gary postponed Blackie’s celebration of life. Yet one year to the day on August 22, 2021, he hosted a private memorial stroll at the La Brea Tar Pits where an intimate group of mourners gathered. The tar pits serve as a sacred burial ground of thousands of Ice Age creatures and indeed hold the remains of some of Blackie the Cat’s saber-toothed ancestors. All who attended were reminded that the passage of time is inevitable.
The event culminated in a two-minute sound bath entitled “The Power of Purr.” Blackie’s own voice heard as if from beyond the grave could be experienced in surround sound, which was accessible using a QR code provided on the back of a card that was handed out to all guests along with a complimentary lapel pin. Those in attendance also received purrhaps the most beautiful 8-page full-color funeral program that I’ve ever seen. Pall Bearers wore custom-made beanies by Yukari Fujimoto, who also produces all of Baseman’s plush prototypes. Baseman’s own hat was created by his fashion designer friend Aliona Kononova, who created it in Ukraine before the memorial.
Following this heartfelt event, I reached out to Gary and he graced me with an interview.
Q & A’s with Gary Baseman
Was Blackie your first cat?
Not at all. My family had cats since I was a child. I had a very beloved tough tabby cat when I lived in Brooklyn named Rocco. He was my first cat when I was an adult. Very playful. Would always drop a paper mache Day of the Dead skeleton on my head in the middle of the night. When I was married, a few feral cats adopted us and had kittens, and at one time, I had 13 black cats and kittens. My favorite was a big 20 lb pal named Abracadabra. But I lost those cats in my divorce. Then Blackie the Cat came into my life when I moved into his hood, and he saved me.
When did you first learn to talk cat language?
I always felt I had a connection to communicate with cats, but it wasn’t until Blackie taught me the real secrets to the Cat language and Cat culture.
When did you first start strolling with Blackie?
Blackie started strolling during the pandemic. The first official stroll was on March 26, 2020.
What was the longest stroll you’ve taken?
The longest stroll was around the block. Or if you counted streets it would be 6 streets. Some of the longest videos lasted about 15 min.
What was Blackie’s favorite food?
Venison, he loved Venison. I don’t know if it was because of the name of one of my characters. Actually, the real person the Venison character was named for, always invited Blackie into my home.
Tell me about the red elephants you bought that Blackie would knock over?
I got the original two bakelite red “elifants” at a flea market hidden in a shoebox filled with knickknacks. I didn’t know what to do with them and put them on my bedside table. Blackie lounged on the side of the bed and knocked them off. I saw them on the ground, put them back up, and the rest was history. He knocked them down again, and again, and again.
If Blackie was a flavor of ice cream, what would he be and why? What flavor would Blackie taste like?
Blackie, if he was a flavor of ice cream, would take like compassion. Blackie was a very sophisticated creature and reinvented himself.
How about Bosko?
Well, Bosko is easy. Bosko is named after my favorite “Milk Amplifier.” So Bosko would taste like Bosco that tastes like chocolate.
Where did Bosko come from?
Bosko was fostered with his two sisters by a couple who contacted me. They had received the kittens on my birthday, September 27th. I was still mourning Blackie and was not interested in looking at kittens for myself at the time, but I was interested in meeting the kittens because one of them looked like a baby Blackie. The same stare, fluffiness, and white mark on her chest. It was one of Bosko’s sisters. I thought I could maybe adopt her, but after four meetings I felt we were not the right fit. It broke my heart. Bosko got adopted by another couple but they never claimed him, and he ended up coming home with me.
What is the difference Blackie and Bosko’s personalities?
Blackie and Bosko are completely different souls. I’m still getting to know Bosko who will turn one around September 27th.
How did the memorial come together, what was involved in organizing?
The memorial came together through my caring team at my studio. With Covid, we were not allowed to have any ceremony after Blackie passed even though I drew a few ideas of what I imagined and wanted. When things were opening up in the spring, I was hoping to have a bigger event, but with Delta, that was not to be. I was fortunate to get the La Brea Tar Pits to allow me their venue. I have a close relationship and personal love for this special place and wanted to offer memory pieces for guests to remember Blackie. I wanted music, and I wanted everyone to experience his purr, and to take a tribute stroll.
Who was the violinist and how did you two meet?
Troy Everett is a talented violinist who played at the Memorial. We met through mutual friends about 3 years ago. His music always made me melt. I had the music of Max Richter in my head and asked Troy if he could play something like that. When he came over to the studio and started playing, I started crying.
Linda Ramone, who was a guest, wanted to share a few words. “It was a magical day for “Blackie the Cat” and his “Boy Gary.” I am so happy to have been part of it, and Gary is a great guy and so fun to hang out with. We will always remember the amazing Blackie the Cat.”
Another guest in attendance at the memorial for Blackie the Cat who had some words to share was Biff Butler, who first became introduced to Gary Baseman’s artwork after reading an issue of Juxtapoz magazine in the mid-’90s. “Gary’s works of art always caught my eye and reminded me of a not so unpleasant child’s fever dream, caught in a world between beautiful and bizarre. I was fortunate to meet Gary and Toby at Coachella 2008 on one of their photo adventures while I was doing one with my own found art object project Coachee. I was able to get a photograph of them together and Gary was a super nice and fascinating character. I later saw him at DesignerCon 2018 and was able to purchase my own collectible Toby. To be part of his Blackie the Cat Memorial was a highlight of this crazy year and one I will always remember.”
True to form, Baseman gave us yet another shining example of the bittersweetness to those who touch our hearts while exemplifying compassion and love.