Sunday, June 18, 2006 06/16/06-Gustav Tenggren

In today's excerpt, Gustav Tenggren (1896-1970), Disney artist and illustrator on such projects as Snow White, Bambi and Pinocchio. Disney, and Hollywood generally, were beneficiaries of the Great Depression and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, as hordes of highly talented but out-of-work painters, musicians and other artists poured into Hollywood in search of employment. These artists took Disney's animation to unforeseen heights:"In New York, Tenggren was part of a group of writers and artists who gathered in clubs on Greenwich Village's MacDougal Street for drinking, smoking and highly opinionated conversations. 'Gustav was always somewhat vocal within that group, then always independent enough to go off by himself,' according to Mary Anderson, one of several nieces. 'His hair was long, he wore a camel hair coat with a sash and suede shoes. He was a true artist. He saw things differently.' His aloofness, which would not endear him to co-workers at Disney, was 'very much in keeping with the Swedish character,' said Mary T. Swanson. Like Garbo, the most famous Swede of all, it was a 'quality of aloneness, which is often seen as aloofness. There is a joke about Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns stranded on an island: a year later the Finns have set up a lumber industry, the Norwegians a fishing industry, and the Swedes are looking at each other waiting to be introduced. That gives you a feeling.'

" 'During the Depression, things got very slow,' said Mary Anderson. 'So, like a lot of artists, he went out there and worked for Disney.' Tenggren, borrower of artistic styles from classical to contemporary, subtly adapted to whatever assignment was at hand. In Tenggren's depiction of Snow White's fearsome flight through the forest, for example, where spindly hands of anthropomorphic trees reach and grab for the girl, there is debt to both Dore' and Rackham, but Bauer is also present..."Tenggren was 'a meticulous researcher and kept files and cuttings' on Hollywood movie scenes containing unusual camera angles, favorite American painters, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and Edward Hopper, and photos and sketches of European locales. In Pinocchio, Albert Hurter met Grandfather Teng; or, as Robin Allan put it, 'Germany and Sweden come together in the three- dimensionalizing of Geppetto's workshop interior.' "

John Canemaker (2005 Oscar winner for his animation short!), Before the Animation Begins, Hyperion, 1996, pp. 40-41


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