“Central Park” by Eyvind Earle, 1983
Our artist of the week: Eyvind Earle
It was one moment at the age of 10 that proved pivotal for the man who has recently been declared one of the "Disney Legends", confirming the continued strength of his legacy some 16 years after his death. That moment was one of an ultimatum from his father, Ferdinand Earle: read 50 pages of a book or paint a picture every day? The already-enterprising youngster, Eyvind, decided to do both.
A Disney legend, long before he was a Disney Legend...
The Manhattan, New York-born Eyvind Earle so thoroughly redefined the prolific artist that we might as well start with the aspects of his oeuvre: his truly stunning background illustration and styling for Disney's classic animated feature films. He joined Walt Disney Studios as an assistant background painter in 1951, but soon demonstrated he was more than just another jobbing artist. His simple, but fantastical style earning him gigs on projects such as Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp.
The purest demonstration of the magic of Eyvind's Disney work is unquestionably Sleeping Beauty, the film for which he created all of the styling, backgrounds and colours. So iconic was the imaginative, medieval look that he conjured up for this highly acclaimed 1959 film, that he was asked to paint the dioramas for Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California
Eyvind Earle, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, concept art ca. 1950
Such grand assignments represent just a fraction of Earle's full work for Disney, and marked quite the progression from his early experimental background painting for the Goofy animated short film For Whom the Bulls Toil. In 1953, he was responsible for the look of the animated short film Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, which was victorious at the Oscars and Cannes Film Festival.
Other projects on which Earle worked for Disney range from Working for Peanuts to Pigs is Pigs and Paul Bunyan, making his 1998 Winsor McCay Award, for lifetime achievement in the art of animation, as well as his posthumous Disney Legends induction in 2015, not only well-deserved but well overdue.
But there's a world of Earle beyond Disney...
Such has been Earle's stellar cultural reach through his Disney work, that it would be horrendously easy - and unjust - to forget the formidable reputation that he garnered as an all-round visual artist. That is why you will find his works today in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona.
This was an artist, after all, who had his first solo show in France as a 14-year old, and who was able to use the proceeds from his sale of 42 watercolours for a Hollywood to New York bicycle journey at the age of 21. He was barely into his thirties when, in 1937, his first New York one-man show at Charles Morgan Galleries opened, creating an association with the institution that would lead to a sell-out show there two years later and the Met's purchase of one of his paintings.
However, Earle's success as a legitimate art-world figure was far from merely attributable to strong connections and an even stronger determination evident in him from youth. He was also an artist committed to constant evolution, as most obviously demonstrated by his transition from a strictly realist artist to a keen admirer of imaginative masters including Van Gogh, Cezanne and Georgia O'Keefe. By his early twenties, Earle had fused these influences into a simple, direct and sure style that came to be instantly recognisable as his.
Legendary status, well-earned...
To look at one of Eyvind Earle's landscapes that he produced in considerable numbers after his return to full-time painting in 1966, is to appreciate a style that is by turns mysterious, primitive, moody and nostalgic. There is a grandeur evident in his paintings that reflects that of the wider American countryside, alongside many other, seemingly incongruent elements that few other artists would think of combining.
As the artist wrote in 1996, four years before his death: "For 70 years, I've painted paintings, and I'm constantly and everlastingly overwhelmed at the stupendous infinity of Nature. Wherever I turn and look, there I see creation. Art is creating... art is the search for truth."
Here at Addicted Art Gallery, we would certainly voice our agreement with those sentiments, while adding that we are similarly endlessly amazed by the sheer breadth, depth and quality of this truly legendary artist's life and career. He even designed the logo trademark trailer for Universal Pictures (1962)!
Universal Pictures concept logo by Eyvind Earle, 1962
Universal Pictures logo, 1963