Michael Bast

Creative Acts of Transformation Act III: The Next Introductions

Art can take you anywhere. But what happens when the art itself travels?

As we continue our Creative Acts of Transformation Project, we asked Michael Bast, the second of three artists creating the Wacom exquisite corpse, what it’s like to let your art go—literally and figuratively.

Here’s what he said about collaboration, inspiration, and building on Laura Coyle’s “Family Foibles” theme with help from the Cintiq Companion.

Q: What did you think when you heard you would be participating in an exquisite corpse?

A: I didn’t know what an exquisite corpse was at all. I thought it was a book or a video or a series. But I was intrigued because I’m intrigued with Wacom products, and they’ve been a big part of my career. So I was game.

I’m kind of a rogue guy. I work at home, in an office, by myself 24/7, and I talk to art directors when needed via IM or email. So being collaborative is a little bit of a stretch for me. I’m usually the answer guy. I finish the art and make the client look great. That’s my job. So when I have to pull up short and say, “Welp, I’m done here,” that is the hardest thing. Knowing when to quit is half the skill of being an artist.

Q: How did you feel about being the second artist?

A: I think I have the easiest task.  I’m the bridge between what the first individual comes up with, which is the hardest, and the final artist, who has the final leg and has to win the race and tie it all together.

Q: Your first big gig was at an ad agency in Chicago. Can you tell us what it was like?

A: I was 21 years old. I walked into an ad agency with my portfolio of drawings from the past 15 years. They said, “These are great drawings! Can you draw a tomato? Can you make carrots and stuff like that?” And I said, “Sure, no problem.” That was it. I don’t think it’s possible to do what I did back then. You literally cannot walk into a building unannounced.

I started worked on Kraft labels doing comps, market renderings, sitting around all these old curmudgeons from the 1950s telling me what it meant to be an artist. It was awesome. I was getting paid to go to school. I learned everything in that first year, like how to work on an illustrator board, how to put together a presentation, and assisting with photography.

Then I started freelancing in Downtown Chicago doing the same kind of work with more autonomy on what I wanted to do. The rest is history.

Q: What has the infusion of digital tools into the art world been like?

A: It’s bad for people like me who have relied on a skill set that has been developed over decades.

In the old days, the medium told you what you could create. An oil painting cannot be a flashy hi-tech 3D image. It just can’t. And you couldn’t sit down and create a beautiful painting on a board in a matter of hours. It was a series of preparations without any nets. You couldn’t mess it up. One little mistake, and it’s done.

Computers are the most forgiving environment ever devised. You can’t mess it up. It’s the ultimate in multimedia. There’s nothing you can’t do. There are probably a lot of things you probably shouldn’t do. But you can do it.

The computer is a great enabler. Everybody can experience a level of proficiency that in some cases outstrips the idea or the talent or the concept. And it makes us sharpen our pencils and our brains to say, “Okay, I can do almost anything, but what is the best idea?” And that is where the sweet spot is. It gets us back down to the idea. What is the really great idea? What is going to solve the problem? And it gives us more tools to work with. Unfortunately, now everyone expects you to be a genius in a few hours. So it’s a two-edged sword, isn’t it?

Q: What did you think when you saw the previous artist’s work and started building on to it?

A: Well, I would have to say that the process of the painting has already been started. The idea was there, so a lot of the preliminaries that I go through in development of an idea had already been arrived at. It was up to me to keep the ball rolling.

Working on this tablet allowed me to forgo some pencil development I would normally do and to weave seamlessly into the work that had been started. I’m used to doing that. I would get all kinds of different things from art directors, some more finished than others. But this tool allows me to get in there and feel more immersive.

Thanks, Michael! We’re excited to see what you produce.