Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Disneyland art of Claude Coats

I'm just old enough to remember growing up in Orange County (well, Whittier, but it was the same thing), in the early 1970's, just as Disneyland was building out and completing the most important of the signature rides: Pirates of the Caribbean, Submarine Voyage, and of course the Haunted Mansion.

So I loved this fabulous essay about the artist Claude Coats, who started his career in the movie-making side of Walt Disney Studios (Pinocchio, Fantasia), then made the transition to artist and set designer at Disneyland: Long-Forgotten: Claude Coats: The Art of Deception and the Deception of Art.

The essayist makes the point that the skill of the background painter is to create the world that the other artists will fill with music, animation, and story:

You the viewer are invited to imagine yourself on the other side of the frame (the opposite dynamic of Davis). You see yourself as the character in the landscape. Though never intended for public display, those sketches are among the most beautiful and seductive examples of Mansion art. Who wouldn't want go exploring in this?

I love the description of the Disneyland ride as a voyage through a painting:

As you look at some of those Coats backgrounds up above, like Gepetto's cottage and the Sorcerer's Apprentice interiors, you almost wish you could step into them and look around, so inviting are they. With Rainbow Caverns, Coats finally enabled you do just that: ride right through one of his moody, atmospheric paintings.

And of course, this is the basis of the oft-remarked "suspension of disbelief":

The whole drawing depicts a dissolve between there and here, inside and outside, human artifice and wild nature. This is not an exit point for characters stepping over into our presence; this is a place that invites you to enter.

The essay is filled with gorgeous sketches and paintings, so go have a look!

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