Baalman’s art: Predictable for its unpredictability
When referring to different artists, a person might add a modifier, that so-and-so specializes in a certain type of work (such as landscapes) or medium (such as oils) or hews to a particular style (such as impressionism).
It's not easy to put Jason Baalman into such cubbyholes. About the only thing that can be said safely about the Old Colorado City artist is that he's unpredictable.
He gained notoriety on late-night television a few years ago for painting with French fries and ketchup, and he's also done Abe Lincoln with pennies, a daytime TV host with Cheetos and a variety of works with barbecue sauce. His latest project is a mural depicting some of Old Town's colorful history on the two- story brick wall next to 25th Street that's part of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory business owned by his parents, Ron and Mazie.
A few wall teasers appear as part of an Old West-styled newspaper collage - timed for Territory Days May 28-30 - that he produced for the cover of this issue of the Westside Pioneer.
For the mural project (which he plans to work on during Territory Days), he's limited himself to spray paint and sharpies over numerous stencils. As influences for this art-tools approach, he cited Banksy, a secretive but talented international grafitti artist; and turn-of-the-century Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who enjoyed using gold colors and definable images mixed with abstract forms.
“I like the crazy mediums,” Baalman said in a recent interview. “I did the ketchup and French fries one day on a whim.” Little did he realize what a reception he would get after he loaded a video he'd taken of himself doing the ketchup painting. Within a day it had drawn 15,000 viewers. “It went viral,” he said. “It was out of the blue.”
He decided that what he'd tapped into was a common spirit in people everywhere. “It's what everyone has done, to move ketchup around with a French fry,” Baalman said. “And with Cheetos, you have orange fingers, and with BBQ your hands are messy.”
Another part of that commonality is people trying his techniques for themselves. Baalman believes he understands why that happens. “It's easy for them,” he said. “There aren't any secret brushes, paints or mixtures that are just confusing to people.”
Baalman himself has not had extensive education or training as an artist. His parents put him in a few art classes around the age of 10, and he took the subject again at his junior high and high school in Houston, Texas, but when he went to college at the University of Southern California his major was biomedical engineering. The job prospects were promising, but over time “I didn't think it was creative enough,” Baalman said. “I worked on my art on the side, not with a purpose. It just felt good being creative.”
The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 helped crystallize his thinking. He decided to rejoin his parents, who had by then relocated to Colorado. About six years ago, he took over the storefront/studio space south of their Chocolate Factory on 25th Street, naming it the Eclectic Asylum.
Despite the national attention he's received, Baalman has no ambition to become a public megastar. He remains intentionally remote, so that even if national media want to reach him they have to be “persistent,” as he put it, to be successful. He often refuses jobs if they seem boring. For example, he is known as a quality portrait painter. “I could sit around and draw people day and night if I wanted,” he said. “But it's not fun.”
What he really wants to do is work on the numerous projects he's dreamed up for himself. The wall is just one of them. Another down the road would involve filming himself doing instructional videos for all ages, offering simple pointers on drawing with crayons, then posting them on Utube.
Asked if he feels he's been successful, Baalman shook his head. “I'm not,” he said. “But I'm leading my life.”
Westside Pioneer article