There are two principal directions in visual art: Realism and Abstraction.
Actually, they’re not “directions” as much as “flavors”. You can mix flavors; you can’t mix directions. Or maybe it’s a spectrum. I really don’t know.
Cartoon Modern was a style which came into being in the 1950’s; a child of the Swiss-inspired push for minimal design and the art world’s general shift towards Abstraction.
The characters that emerged from this style are loose and gestural, constructed of a few clean lines and vivid colors. Saul Bass was a champion of Cartoon Modern (see the opening titles for It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), but that’s a whole ‘nother post. Maurice Noble’s backgrounds for Looney Tunes and many of the characters in earlier Rankin Bass films are also great examples of Cartoon Modern (see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Mad Monster Party, etc.)
All of that rabbit-trailing aside, I think the best thing about Cartoon Modern is not the characters, but the use of color. Suddenly, animators decided it was ok to give characters purple skin and paint trees red. There was freedom. And nobody used that freedom like Eyvind Earle.
Eyvind Earle, Three Horses, 1987
Earle was a concept artist for Disney in the 50’s. One of his early projects with the studio was Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953), on which he did the backgrounds.
Disney Studios, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, 1953
He supervised the backgrounds on many golden-era Disney films, and is best known for his art direction on Sleeping Beauty (1959).
Eyvind Earle, Concept Work for Sleeping Beauty, 1959
Ending his career at Disney, Earle turned to painting and screen-printing; his work from the 60’s onward was dominated by fantastic landscapes.
Earle had a knack for blending the picky details of Realism with the geometric grace and vivid color of Abstraction. The results are stunning- maybe Abstraction and Realism are two sides of the same coin? When they come together… is that where Beauty comes from?
Eyvind Earle, Black Oak, 1982