Sunday concludes Mike Gabriel’s first solo art exhibition, “The Fearless Art of Mike Gabriel,” at Center Stage Gallery in Burbank, with more than 50 originals and hundreds of prints on display and for sale, presented by The Creative Talent Network. I can’t recommend it enough. The companion book published by CTN is also a must and features a comprehensive selection of Disney’s Oscar-nominated art director (Lorenzo) along with shout outs from Lorelay Bovè, Chris Buck, Ralph Eggleston, Paul Felix, Glen Keane, and John Musker, among others.
It’s hard to believe that Gabriel’s been at Disney for 30 years. He most recently designed Wreck-It Ralph and his lovely work also graces Frozen, Tangled, Frankenweenie, Brave, Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog, and Bolt. And that’s just during the John Lasseter era. And let’s not forget that Gabriel also co-directed Pocahontas and The Rescuers Down Under.
“Stylistically, I am striving to become as unique as possible,” Gabriel suggested. “What does my hand to brush to canvas want to do that nobody else is doing? Where does my sensibility stray off the expected path and veer into a true to my gut subtextual inclinational style? I want to continue to listen to that inner voice and tell my fine art voice to shut up. What do I love? I ask myself that when I am about to start a painting. Don’t think about the form; think about the feeling.”
In the ’80s, Gabriel was known as “The King of Cute” because nobody could do animals like him (he even won a cute-off with Buck). The makers of the upcoming Zootopia no doubt have learned a lot from his furry creations. But then came the fluorescent feline, Lorenzo, and Gabriel discovered his true gift: a surreal classicism.
He’s done a lot of painting post Wreck-It Ralph and the elegant simplicity shows in his latest assortment of animals (not only cats but also foxes, birds, bears, and elephants). I especially like the ones holding martinis. The influence of Dumbo and The Jungle Book is still apparent, of course, but the lasting impact of Lorenzo remains part of the DNA.
I asked him what spawned the hot fluorescent look of his feline wonder against a black background, and he thought about it for moment before responding: Sleeping Beauty. But the lineage is organic. He works quickly and intuitively. These are joyous paintings and the sensuous curve is his ally.
Speaking of which, there’s also Gabriel’s fascination with exotic, melancholy women in silhouette. This perhaps represents his most remarkable work. He pays homage to Mary Blair in several paintings, something he picked up watching the Walt & El Grupo doc. Blair’s sharp features in profile are especially alluring. And the Hawaiian women have special glam appeal. One of Gabriel’s favorites (and mine as well) is “Woman in Red Dress with Poodles,” which riffs on the iconic Audrey Hepburn only with a tropical twist.
That’s the fearless Mike Gabriel for you.