Eyvind Earle (and Jumanji)

This weekend I went to an exhibit of art at the Walt Disney Family Museum up in the Presidio, on the art of Evyind Earle — a man most of you have probably never heard of (I hadn’t), but who did the backgrounds for the 1959 Sleeping Beauty. I had no idea what I would think of the rest of his art, but I figured, hey: if nothing else, I’ll get to see some of his work from that movie, which I knew was lovely.

The rest of his art is gorgeous.

He worked in a number of different media, ranging from black-and-white scratchboards to oils. As with so much physical art, reproductions don’t do it justice; the tiny images on that website don’t even do it a tiny fraction of a shred of a shadow of justice. His oils and serigraphs often use very intense color, coupled with a strong chiaroscuro effect, and he had a fascinating knack for combining clean, geometric shapes with fine detailing that makes some of the images almost seem to glitter in person. One of the signboards had a quote from when he was working on Sleeping Beauty that really summed up both his approach and why it appeals to me so immensely:

“I wanted stylized, simplified Gothic. Straight, tall, perpendicular lines like Gothic cathedrals . . . I used one-point perspective. I rearranged the bushes and trees in geometrical patterns. I made a medieval tapestry out of the surface wherever possible. All my foregrounds were tapestry designs of decorative weeds and flowers and grasses. And since it is obvious that the Gothic style and detail evolved from the Arabic influence acquired during the Crusades, I found it perfectly permissible to use all the wonderful patterns and details found in Persian miniatures. And since Persian miniatures had a lot in common with Chinese and Japanese art, I felt it was OK for me to inject quite a bit of Japanese art, especially in the close-up of leaves and overhanging branches.”

Mashing all those influences together explains the balance of simplicity and detail that runs through so much of his work, not just the material for Sleeping Beauty (which I liked, but wound up being eclipsed by his independent work, at least for me). We liked it so much that when we’d gone through the whole gallery, we went back to a few of the rooms just to look at our favorite paintings again — and then I went straight to the shop and dropped fifty dollars on an art book of his ouevre, because I wanted to be able to look at it again. I would have bought prints if they’d been selling any, apart from a couple of framed images priced at a thousand bucks apiece. I wish his estate was selling anything in the price range of normal mortals, but they don’t appear to be. (The guy at the museum shop admitted it was their mistake not to sell the concept art of Prince Philip facing off against Maleficent in sizes larger than schoolchild: how did they not realize that was a thing adults would throw money at???)

And then we had lunch followed by an exhibit at the De Young on Teotihuacan followed by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle followed by dinner. It was a busy day. Jumanji was even better than I hoped it would be, and I have to give massive kudos to the big-name actors for channeling the mannerisms of their young counterparts; Jack Black in particular committed 110% to playing a self-absorbed teenage girl in the body of, well, Jack Black. Karen Gillan did an American accent well enough that I didn’t even think until after the movie about the fact that she’s not American, and I cannot imagine anyone other than the Rock in the lead role, because the number of actors who can pull off both the over-the-top machismo of a video game character named Dr. Smolder Bravestone and the neurotic twitchiness of a weedy teenaged nerd is fairly small. I recommend it to anybody who could use a few hours of laughing their ass off right now.

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