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Painting Inspiration From the Open Water

Using art to express the feeling of being in the water

Phillippe Diederich | December 31, 2008

U.S. Masters Swimming member Craig Baskin is inspired. He’s inspired when he swims in the open water, when he paints, and when he’s busy with a fundraiser for one of the many charitable causes he believes in. “It all ties together in a circle,” he says.

Baskin, 47, has always loved the open water. When he was a child and his family wintered in Florida, he was always the last one out of the water. “Swimming is a very personal thing,” Baskin says. “The joy for me is getting in the water and swimming for miles, having that experience.”

A few years ago, Baskin picked up a paintbrush and began playing with acrylic paint. “I copied colors of plants and colors I remembered. It was an evolution of what I saw,” Baskin explains. What he was painting was what he remembered from swimming in the open water: the landscapes he sights: the fish, the water, the light.

But his paintings are not about wildlife or landscapes. They’re abstract. They’re his interpretation of what he loves about open water swimming. “When you’re in the water you see everything at eye level. Everything is in layers,” he explains. “There’s the silver of the fish, coral or beach glass. You raise your head and you see a line of sand or the plants on the shore; bougainvillea and hibiscus, the green and brown of the mountains and then the sky.”

All this finds its way into square, three by three and larger canvases Baskin paints using large bushes. He blends and mixes the acrylic paint on the canvas, adding white to separate and blend the different layers of color he remembers from his swims.

Baskin doesn’t swim for competition, and he doesn’t have a swimming buddy. For him, swimming has always been a solitary journey. “It’s a natural thing for me to be out in the water,” he says. “I don’t really fatigue. I get in the water and swim and look at the landscape and the water.”

Baskin divides his time between his home in Palm Springs and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico where he swims in Chileno Bay in the Sea of Cortez. “It’s incredible,” he says, “when you swim there between October and April, you’re swimming with dolphins and whales.”

In Cabo he swims two or three miles in the ocean four or five times a week. In Palm Springs, he swims for an hour at the Palm Springs Swim Center and works out with weights three times a week. When he swims he doesn’t use fins or a snorkel or paddles. He enjoys the freedom of swimming briefs, goggles and nothing else.

Swimming brought Baskin artistic inspiration, and now he is using his art to help the charities that inspire him. He is very involved with the Special Olympics and other charities that help physically and mentally challenged people. He usually donates his paintings for fundraisers. “It’s a good way to raise funds and I get to tell the story of being in the water and the benefits of water therapy,” he says.

Baskin says when he donates a painting, he sometimes stipulates the condition that one hundred percent of the money raised from the auction of his work go directly to the people affected by the charity. In early March, his painting “Port-au-Prince Hope” sold for $2500 to an anonymous buyer during a fundraiser for the Save The Children, Haiti Earthquake Children in Emergency Fund, in Palm Springs. He is currently finishing another painting, which he will donate to the Nancy Davis Race to Erase MS Gala in Los Angeles.

Baskin’s work can be viewed in his website: www.craigbaskin.com

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