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The Art of Masturbation

Tim Biskup sits behind a table smack dab in the middle of Billy Shire Fine Arts Gallery, looking all bright-eyed and bushy-faced, more slacker rock star than established art god. He dutifully doodles for the dozen or so adoring fans and collectors who are queued up for a chat and a boost to their investment in Biskup’s latest limited-edition toy figure, “Helper.” It seems a signed, limited-edition one-eyed, fanged log is infinitely more valuable than an unsigned, limited-edition one-eyed, fanged log.

The crowd isn’t the rowdy murder of pimple-faced preadolescents and smattering of Sanrio-accessorized Japanese collectors I expected, but a rotating handful of eclectic and otherwise average-looking grown-ups clutching Biskup dolls, Biskup books and Biskup crushes. Tifanie (“one ‘f’ — eye — eeeeeeeeeeeee”), a childless, yet still soccer-mom-seeming, 30-something sort of lass, approaches the table. Nervous and giddy, she extends her brand-new Helper doll, encased in its conical cardboard packaging, and squeals with schoolgirl delight as Biskup untangles the toy from its box and sketches a messy Helper next to his signature.

“I heard that he helps you die. Is that true?” asks Tifanie.

“He’s more like a psychotic serial killer who doesn’t know how to love,” replies Biskup.

Tifanie glides away and makes way for Steve, whose knee socks and four-eyes would make him the perfect target for schoolyard bullies were he not at least a decade out of high school.

Steve hands Biskup a pair of glossy post cards and instructs him to sketch something cool on them. As Biskup happily obliges, a stout and chipper fellow brandishing perfect teeth and a Gary Baseman T-shirt pops out from the Billy Shire office and cozies up behind Biskup.

“You guys are always together,” says the apparently ubiquitous Steve.

The guy with the perfect chompers turns to me and asks if I am Tim’s muse. While I’ve been mistaken for a lot of things, this is the first time I’ve been pegged as the inspiration for a guy who draws one-eyed tree stumps and googly-eyed dragons.

“No, just a freelance writer trying to drum up a story. Who are you?”

“Gary Baseman.”

And so begins an artsy dialogue with the meta-clad superstar of the Juxtapoz art world. We talk Michael Bedard and package design. We touch on offshore manufacturing and our collective native upbringing (Baseman went to Fairfax, Biskup grew up in Malibu), but mostly we talk about this latest art craze.

Between receiving breathy and effusive compliments and offering doodles and patient answers to pointless questions (many of them mine), Biskup explains that he is driven, not by profit or by external approval, but merely by freedom and self-gratification, preferring to paint what tickles his own fancy than what the established art community deems relevant or in fashion.

“Basically,” cracks Baseman, “it’s pure masturbation.”

A spiky-haired woman wearing green, critter-speckled pants talks up the no-brainer investment strategy behind Biskup’s Stack Packs: The $250 limited-edition mugs fetch exponentially inflated and preposterous sums on eBay. Besides that, they’re really cool.

As Biskup doodles a pipe-smoking freckle-faced girl on my shrunken Jackson 500 book, I ask him if he thinks Baseman is accurate in describing his art as pure masturbation.

“No. Because, unlike true masturbation, I’ve gotten so good at it that now other people seem to be enjoying it too.”