If you just heard about the popularity of cartoon artwork and want to see what's up, Doc, tune in to the animation exhibit "The Magic World of 'TOONS" opening Sunday at the John Nichols Gallery in Santa Paula.
The show, which runs through January, will feature 500 original animation cels from the past three decades. Unlike the $13,000 recently paid at a New York auction for a cel and background setup from a 1947 Bugs Bunny cartoon, the artwork for sale at the Nichols gallery will be $25 to $200. A few older pieces will go for more, such as a print of a demon from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in Disney's "Fantasia." Owner and show curator Jeff Garcia is pricing that print at $1,200.
Garcia, a local collector of animation art who suggested the show to John Nichols a year ago, said he wants to help the public realize it is a legitimate and uniquely American art form.
Animation began in the '20s with the film "Gertie the Dinosaur," a print of which will be shown during the exhibition. Warner Bros. and Disney quickly entered the field, and its popularity has been legendary.
The term "cel" derives from cellulose, the material on which cartoons were originally painted. The animation studios switched to acetate in 1960 after discovering that cellulose was flammable and tended to yellow and shrink over time.
The show will include cels of the Road Runner, Roger Rabbit and the Mutant Ninja bunch, as well as two original drawings by master animator Bill Tytle, who, Garcia said, is considered the Michelangelo of the field. Although the cels are the more colorful and popular collector items, the true work of art is the drawing the cel is copied from.
The drawings, which are the first step in producing a cartoon, were originally hand-traced onto the front of the cellulose and then painted onto the back. In the '60s, Disney and Xerox developed a process that chemically transferred the images onto the acetate, although the painting is still done by hand.
In the early days of animation, cels were not considered valuable. Because cellulose was expensive, the images were washed off and the material reused and eventually discarded. Therefore a limited supply of vintage cels is available, which, Garcia said, is a factor in the skyrocketing prices. Another factor is the characters' popularity. "Disney always tends to be pricey," Garcia said.
A demonstration of how cels are made will be held Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m. at the studio of Judi Cassell, an animation production company, across the street from the Nichols gallery at 971 E. Main St. A reception will follow at the gallery.
Nichols, a longtime resident of Santa Paula, started out as an elementary school teacher. At that time, his interest in photography was limited to collecting and taking pictures in his spare time. Then seven years ago he rented two rooms for a photo gallery that he opened on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. The good response and pleasure he got from this work made him decide four years ago to open a full-time business.
"It came to me I enjoyed being a Main Street merchant and gallery owner. I knew I would also have to make enough money to pay the bills, and I wanted a business which would be compatible with the gallery. I have always been interested in new and used books, antiques and magazines, so I opened the front half of the shop as Mr. Nichols." The back portion, which is dedicated to displaying artwork, is called John Nichols Gallery.
Nichols is a serious collector and promoter of a field many people don't consider serious art. His is one of only 10 to 15 private photography galleries in California, which he said allows him the advantage of having a large pool of talent from which to draw.
Nichols' interests extend beyond photography. He has built sets and run the light board for the Santa Paula Theatre Company where his wife, Leslie, is acting in the current production of "Company. " He has also served as stage manager for the Monterey Jazz Festival and occasionally invites musicians, dancers and readers of poetry to perform at his gallery.
He lines up four major exhibits a year, almost exclusively in photography, although he occasionally includes other forms such as the current one on animation art.
WHERE AND WHEN
"The Magic World of 'Toons" exhibit commences Sunday and runs through January at John Nichols Gallery, 910 E. Main St., Santa Paula. On Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m. there will be a demonstration of how animation cels are made at the studio of Judi Cassell, 971 E. Main St., followed by an opening reception from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Nichols Gallery. Normal gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (805) 525-7804.