Cartoon Modern and Eyvind Earle

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.

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom3_1953

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom2_1953

Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom_1953

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).

Sleeping Beauty c. 1959

EyvindEarleSleepingBeauty_c. 1959

EyvindEarleSleepingBeauty_ c. 1959

earle_beauty_ c. 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.

winter-1981Eyvind Earle, Winter, 1981

big sur and branch_1974Eyvind Earle, Big Sur and Branch, 1974

Three-Horses-Grazing_oilEyvind Earle, Three Horses Grazing, (date unknown)

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?

the_wave_1990Eyvind Earle, The Wave, 1990

black oak_1982

Eyvind Earle, Black Oak, 1982

santacruzmountains_1999Eyvind Earle, Santa Cruz Mountains, 1999

2 thoughts on “Cartoon Modern and Eyvind Earle

  1. Glenn

    Eyvind referred to his approach to his art, whether to painting in cassein, acrylic or oils, or to the labor-intensive process of serigraphy — as ‘designed realism.’ And so, your commentary is in fact quite correct 🙂


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