Gallery Stroll: Never Too Old For Good Art

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“The Finntastic Four” by J. J. Harrison, one of the cartoon-inspired artists showcasing at Blonde Grizzly.

It’s Saturday morning, you jump out of bed, race into the living room, grab the biggest bowl in the cabinet, pour a mound of sugary cereal, douse it with ice-cold milk and turn on the Saturday morning cartoons. This scenario took place 30, 40, even 50 years ago, and you can see it in homes across the world this week.

On July 20, Paper Wasp, with the support of Big Shiny Robot and Blonde Grizzly, will host a “Saturday Morning Cartoons” show. A true creative community collaboration, this group show originated from conversation between Magen Mitchell of Paper Wasp and Derek Hunter, both participating artists. Blonde Grizzly had the space and Big Shiny Robot loved the idea and offered to sponsor. Mitchell’s husband and Paper Wasp co-founder, Nick Burke, jumped in to help facilitate and curate.

Individual cartoons can span decades, which can make them a common denominator for parent and child, or even child and grandparent. This form of storytelling and imagery has grown astronomically from Steamboat Willie and Hanna-Barbera, to The Simpsons and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. “Cartoon art” appeals to a myriad of people, because cartoons themselves have such a substantial influence on popular culture and our society as a whole. The “cartoon show” concept is not new, but Burke says, “We hope this show will be a little different from previous cartoon shows because we’ll feature a wide variety of well known local artists who now watch cartoons with their own children, and some new artists who never stopped watching cartoons. We also invited several commercial illustrators who don’t usually show their work in galleries because, at least with most illustrators, the cartoons of their youth are sources of great inspiration.”
Artists will include but are not limited to: Leia Bell, Coulton Evans, Veronica Lynn Harper, Evan Jed Memmott, Laura Decker, Eric Evans, Spencer Holt, Lucas Ackley, Heather Ackley, Derek Hunter, Andy Carlson, J.J. Harrison, Jess Smart Smiley, Geoff Shupe, Tim Odland, Magen Mitchell, Scott Stanley, Troy Henderson, Max Kelly, Dylan Dessner and Carl Jemmet.

Given the extensive list of well known creative types, I’m curious of the context these characters might be given. Historically, the subject matter of cartoons has been geared toward the human struggle, whether with ourselves, our fellow humans, politics or our environment. Early Disney classics dealt with racism, industrialization, the economy and voter rights. The thought of seeing the artists who inspire me reflecting on the things that inspire them is riveting. While animation has surpassed early cartoonists’ wildest expectations, current illustrators, designers and animators love to celebrate the rich history and acknowledge their influences, and can be found throwing a nod or reference to their childhood inspirations.

Rarely can two people say they’ve had an identical upbringing, but nearly everyone has a Saturday morning cartoon memory. Obviously, the technology has changed: I’ll never forget that giant, wood-encased Zenith and how it hummed while it was warming. I’m fortunate enough to share those same great stories, and wonderful original pieces of art and animation with my children. I hope that it inspires them to dream big, because nothing is impossible in the cartoon universe.

The Salt Lake Gallery Stroll is held on the third Friday of every month. Opening receptions take place from 6-9 p.m.