Rick Baker
The man himself at The Monster Maker: An Art Tribute to Rick Baker event | All photos by Deverill Weekes

Two aspects of Rick Baker’s art were on display this past weekend as Trailers From Hell (trailersfromhell.com) and Hero Complex Gallery (herocomplexgallery.com) joined forces to present The Monster Maker: An Art Tribute to Rick Baker.

The two-part event kicked off Oct. 23 at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Calif. with a double feature: 1994’s Ed Wood and 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons.

Trailers From Hell’s Chris Condon, who conceived the event, says it was his idea to show Ed Wood mainly because he’s such a big fan of the notorious filmmaker. “I know Rick also loves Ed Wood and his movies,” he says. “He called Tim Burton and said, ‘Can I please do Ed Wood? I want to do Bela.’”

Baker himself chose the evening’s second feature. “He’s very fond of Harry. It’s one of his favorite creations,” says Condon.

Baker was on hand for a question-and-answer session and didn’t disappoint. Peppered with questions from host Dana Gould (Condon says the comedian is another Ed Wood fan and owns two of the flying saucer props from Plan 9 From Outer Space), the make-up artist thrilled the enthusiastic audience for more than an hour with insights about his film experiences.

On Oct. 24, the action switched to the Hero Complex Gallery in West Los Angeles for the opening of The Monster Maker with Rick Baker exhibit.

Rick Baker
Art inspired by the work of Baker

Here, Baker’s painting skills were on display. A painter since his teens, Baker has been dabbling more with the brush and canvas as he has segued into retirement.

The exhibit features five of his original paintings. These include a black-and-white acrylic of Frankenstein’s Monster from 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, a color acrylic of 1932’s The Mummy, oils of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz (1939), the Beast from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 feature Beauty and the Beast and The Monster and Ygor from 1939’s Son of Frankenstein.

Rick Baker
Pieces from the exhibit included works by Baker himself as well as artists inspired by his work
Rick Baker
Baker with his art

“These are probably the most beautiful pieces that have graced our gallery,” says Hero Complex creative director Adam Smasher. “The Frankenstein has such a ‘wow’ factor. I just want to look at it all day long.”

Baker was honored to participate, though he admits the timing gave him pause. “My honest reaction was it’s too close to Halloween. October is like my month. That’s going to cut into that,” jokes Baker. “But how could I not be flattered that they wanted to do a Rick Baker show?”

To build around Baker’s art, Smasher commissioned 60 artists to create pieces inspired by Baker’s make-up. More than 70 works pay tribute to the artist’s four decades in film, including The Fury (1978), The Funhouse (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983), Gremlins (1983), The Wolfman (2010) and Maleficent (2014).

“I tried to not pin the artists into a corner. I wanted them to have the flexibility and freedom to enjoy it,” says Smasher. “I said, ‘Here’s a list of his top films. Give me an idea of what you are doing so there’s not too much overlap.’ It’s hard to stay away from werewolves, because Rick has done almost every one. I can probably count about 15 out of 70 pieces.”

Baker and family were on hand, mingling with a crowd that included fellow make-up artists Howard Berger, Chris Nelson and Norman Cabrera.

Rick Baker
Chris Nelson, Howard Berger and Norman Cabrera at the exhibit

“It’s cool to see everyone’s interpretation of work that I’ve done,” says Baker. “To see what they chose to do and how they chose to do it. I love the little Funhouse guy, the werewolf whose face is split and has an animatronics side, the Thriller cat monster people.”

But Baker’s art was definitely the highlight of the evening. Smasher believes that what makes it so distinctive is the emotional connection. “He captures them in the eyes first,” he says. “I feel like he’s capturing the actor first, and then the actor portraying the character.”

Baker, who chooses his subject matter based on make-ups that inspired him, agrees. ”It’s part of why I wanted to do it,” he continues. “It’s not just an homage to the make-up, but the actors as well. I’m a Karloff fan, a Lugosi fan.”

With the exception of Baker’s paintings, all the pieces in the exhibit are available for sale. One of the most in-demand items was the poster for the exhibit, created by Vance Kelly.

“This man is single-handedly the architect of most of my nightmares. This was a great honor to do representations of the creatures he’s created,” says Kelly, who also attended the opening. ”It was really hard to choose the images, because I wanted to do everything he’s ever done.”

One hundred copies of the poster were produced, each signed by Baker. The exhibit runs until Nov. 15. For more information, go to Hero Complex Gallery’s website.