17 February 2017

EYVIND EARLE and SLEEPING BEAUTY

Eyvind Earle has probably influenced my artwork more than any other artist of the past century. This is partly because he has been with me the longest, almost from the beginning, long before I knew his name.

Earle worked for a time for Walt Disney, and oversaw the visual aspect of the 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty film. In no other feature-length film produced by that studio was a single artist given such authority. The magnificently detailed backgrounds were his work; he designed them and oversaw a team of artists who executed them in his signature style. I believe that he painted some part of each of them personally. I consider the background paintings produced for this film to be one of the few masterworks of 20th century medievalism. The Lady and the Unicorn series of millefleur tapestries influenced their design, as did illuminated manuscripts both Gothic and Persian.

Obviously, I did not know all that when I was five years old. I do remember, at that age, seeing something special in that film. It was my favorite, and I did not watch it passively. I watched it, and I drew. By the final scene, I had filled sheets and sheets of paper with pencil drawings of heraldic banners, knights in armor, goblins and castles.

Now, as an adult, I must confess a really deep contempt for the Disney Corporation. It was one of the first corporations to direct marketing and advertising to children, and set the heinous example for others to follow. It ruined, in the imaginations of millions of children, truly wonderful and dignified works of literature by Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne and others. I try to keep my own children away from most of its products and characters.

But that certainly does not negate the talent of certain artists who worked for it, Eyvind Earle and Kay Nielsen especially. Sleeping Beauty left an indelible mark on my artistry. I suppose that if the Disney Corporation were to approve the publication of a big coffee-table book with fold-out reproductions of those painted backgrounds, I would buy it, pore over it endlessly, and never watch the film again. But until that happens, the only way to see those wonderful paintings is to watch the motion picture.

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