When I visited the Tyrus Wong exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum a couple months ago, one of the most gorgeous Bambi background paintings I saw wasn’t painted by Wong but by a guy named Art Riley. The painting was exhibited as a reproduction, but nonetheless I was blown away by the subtlety of Riley’s watercolor wash technique and the majestic sense of space and mood that he created in the piece. It served as a reminder that even though certain painters like Wong and Eyvind Earle get most of the credit nowadays, the Disney studio’s background department was filled with amazing unsung talents.
Riley painted backgrounds on countless Disney features and shorts, among them Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Hockey Homicide, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree and Donald and the Wheel.
The series of paintings presented in this post, entitled Christmas in Bugville, were published in Ideals magazine in the early-1950s. I don’t know how many of them Riley created, or whether there’s a bigger story behind them, but the paintings (even in low-quality digital pic form) are worth seeing. In these paintings, Riley displays a remarkable command of composition, design, texture and color, and on top of everything, he understands how to caricature for cartoon appeal.
Needless to say, he was an accomplished artist beyond the animation world, and some of his fine art pieces, which can be classified under the California Watercolor School, are viewable on this website.