Picasso seizes Donald Duck

Holly Crawford, 2004

The Mouse: Debut, Copyright and Referenced
Those who have used the same or multiple forms of the image many times over many years include Lichtenstein, Helnwein, Oldenburg, Pensato, Ospina, and Chagoya. Some have used the image more persistently than others have.
Most of the images are straightforward, but some are not. For example, Christian Boltanski installed photographs of children, who were members (fans) of the 1955 French Mickey Mouse Club (ills. 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3). Rhonda Zwillinger (ill. 76.1) incorporated the castle at Disneyland into one of her paintings. Burt Payne 3 and Steve Hillenburg (ill. 32.1) used the image of Walt Disney himself in a small plastic sculpture: Walt Disney with mouse ears encased in clear plastic—the frozen Walt doll.[10] Some of these artists have produced a significant body of work based on the Mouse.

Attached to the Mouse
Attached to the Mouse is my revised manuscript that was based on 5 years of reserach for my disseratation which was titled Picasso Seizes Donald Duck. I have collected and analyzed the images of more than 80+ artists who have used the Mouse and other Disney images in their art. How and why did some of these artists use the Mouse? The answers just might suprise you.

I have uploaded the Introduction to Picasso Seizes Donald Duck. This material is copyrighted by me and should not be used without written permission. Please cite!

I am working on publication of my manuscript.

Disney has denied me permission to publish images.

An analysis of the contemporary artists who have used Disney images within the theoretical framework of Griselda Pollock’s Gambit, and Mel Roman and Peter Stastny’s application and extension of Winnicott to the extraordinary relations of artists to their work. Disney used new technology to create a new art form, animated cartoons, in the 1930s, and, via mass media, to elevate the anthropomorphized cartoon animals epitomized by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to celebrity status. He originally produced an optimistic feisty underdog mouse and berserk duck, along with an abundance of objects for an emerging consumer economy. In the 1950s, using the new technology of television to screen the Mickey Mouse Club and the opening of Disneyland, Disney established the Mouse as an icon of corporate success and American culture. Disneyland, and later Disney World, was praised by architects as a possible vision of a better future. The resurgence of the Mouse in the mid-1950s induced Pop artists to appropriate his image, importing his humorous connotations, and nostalgically depicting the feisty, underdog Mouse of their childhood rather than the emerging images produced for Disneyland and the Mickey Mouse Club. Their work reflected their attachment, and found acceptance with viewers and buyers for the same reason. Referencing globally popular cartoon figures while expressing nuanced differences from Disney proved to be a career gambit that assisted the success of these artists. Later artists referenced both the stable iconic Mouse as well as the work of earlier artists. They addressed many issues through both portraiture and narrative works. Critics now assailed the established iconic Mouse as a symbol of corporate consumerism and American cultural imperialism, and artists visually expressed the dark (domination and excess) side of the Mouse rather than that of the plucky individual striving for abundance.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Mouse: Debut, Copyright and Referenced

i.1 Debut of the Mouse as an Appropriated Image
i.2 Copyright Laws: Money and Control
i.3 Development of the Mouse as an Appropriated Image

Chapter 1:Artists and the Mouse: Humor, Attachment, and the Gambit
1.1 Humor
1.2 Transitional Objects and Phenomena
1.3 The Gambit

Chapter 2: It All Started With a Mouse
2.1 The Creation of the Mouse Image
2.2 The Perception of the Mouse Image
2.3 Validation of the Mouse Image

Chapter 3: Nostalgia Mouse
3.1 The Disney Image as a Unique Subject in Pop Art
3.2 The Mouse as a Positive Image at the Time
3.3 Psychological Attachment of Pop Artists
3.4 The Work

Chapter 4: Next Stop Main Street Disneyland
4.1 Disney and Television
4.2 The Mouse Themed
4.3 Disneyland

Chapter 5: Love and Hate
5.1 Mouse Architecture
5.2 Cultural Critics After Disneyland

Chapter 6: Portrait and the Mickeyfied
6.1 Portraits of the Mouse
6.2 The Work
6.3 Mickeyfied

Chapter 7:Grim(m) Mouse
7.1 It’s a Grim(m) world after all
7.2 The Work

Chapter 8: Conclusions

Jean-Michel Alberola, Terry Allen, Kenneth Anger,Eduardo Arroyo, Peter, Ball, John Bankston, Ray Beldner, Peter Blake, Alan Bennie, Renaud Bezy, Stanford Bigger, Christian Boltanski, Michel Boulanger, Blake Boyd, Manuel Calderón, Luis Camnitzer, Enrique Chagoya, Jason Chase, Tseng Kwong Chi, Robert Combas, Robbie Conal, R. Crumb, Daniel Daligand, Jim Dine, William De Boer, Die Duckomenta, Andreas Diefenbach, Mark Dion, Nicole Eisenman, Ron English, Equipo Crόnica (Rafael Solbes and Manuel Valdés), Andrew Epstein, Erro, John Fawcett, Karen Finley, Howard Finster, Llyn Foulkes, Miran Fukuda, Deborah Grant, Robert Grossman, Philip Guston, Keith Haring, Ydessa Hendeles, Gottfried Helnwein, Steven Hillenburg, Natalka Husar, Alain Jacquet, Ray Johnson, Mike Kelley, Ed Kienholz, Ai Kijima, Emmeric James Konrad, Alexander Kosolapov, Mark Kostabi, Masahiko Kuwahara, Christopher Lambert, Lisa Lapinski, Bernard Lavier, Louise Lawlor, Mark Lancaster, Roy Lichtenstein, Nelson Leirner, Sandra Low, John Mattos, Paul McCarthy, Julia Morrisroe, Takashi Murakami, Billy Nose, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Nadin Ospina, Eduardo Paolozzi, Martin Parr, Burt Payne 3, Philip Pearlstein, Joyce Pensato, Richard Pettibone, Lilliana Porter, Bernard Pras, Bernard Rancillac, Scott Roberts, Xiao Fan Ru, Peter Saul, Adrian Saxes, Christian Silvain, William Snyder, Eliezer Sonnenschein, Thomas Stubbs, Jose Torres Tama, Harvé Télémaque, Wayne Thiebaud, Michael Thrush, Arthur Tress, Jeramy Turner, Ben Verkaaik, Chris Ware, Andy Warhol, Susan Wides, Peter Williams, Xiang Dingdang, Jennifer Zackin, Wang Ziwei, and Rhonda Zwillinger.


The Mouse: Debut, Copyright and Referenced

Mickey Mouse is a cartoon image originated in 1928 by Walt Disney, whose eponymous corporation continued after his death into the entertainment and media giant it is today, in part through the commercial exploitation of the Mickey Mouse image and the fictional personality associated with it. At the same time, this image has become an internationally recognized icon of American popular culture.

In the domain of Art the Disney images, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck, have been appropriated by over eighty artists in paintings, drawings, and sculpture. One of these paintings now hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. In this dissertation, I examine the process and context in which the Mouse image captured the imagination of artists. This introduction sets the stage for that examination by outlining the history of artists’ appropriation of these images despite the inhibiting effect of the copyright laws.

Chapter 1 proposes three factors to help explain the attraction of these images for artists. Chapter 2 deals with developments at Disney, and its critics, before the building of the theme parks in 1955, and Chapter 3 examines the 1960s’ artists whose work reflects nostalgia for these early Disney images. In Chapter 4 the Mouse emerges three-dimensionally in Disneyland and Disney World and as well as making a debut on television attracting (or repelling) a new group of cultural critics discussed in Chapter 5. Artists used the Mouse in portraiture (Chapter 6) and as a figure in a narrative incorporating social criticism or, in another vein, mixing the fictional icon of the mouse with depictions of real people and events (Chapter 7).

Debut of the Mouse as an Appropriated Image

The appropriation of the Mouse image by artists was not immediate even though they were very much aware that the Mouse had quickly become a popular image. In 1931 Diego Rivera wrote, “And the esthetes (sic) of that [future] day will find that Mickey Mouse was one of the genuine heroes of American Art in the first half of the twentieth century….”[1] Also, in the early 1930s, Cole Porter used the Mouse as an example of the finest things in life in the song “You’re the Tops,” putting the Mouse on the same level as such cultural icons as the Mona Lisa and the Coliseum. References to Mickey were easily recognizable in popular culture due to widespread exposure in cartoons, merchandising, and advertisements. Like everyone else, artists were aware of the image but did not incorporate it into their work until the late 1940s.

In 1948, Mickey and Minnie Mouse images were used in several small collages (ills. 49.1, 49.2. 49.3) by Eduardo Paolozzi,[2] a British artist born in the twenties. In Real Gold, (49.3) Mickey’s image was probably cut from a Disney advertisement or merchandise label. Mickey is juxtaposed with an image of a bikini-clad woman all representative of the land of movie stars and sunshine. In a third collage, Minnie happily dives into a can of wieners. In this small collage, Paolozzi is one of the first artists to comment on Disney asexual characters. He uses Mickey’s image in a pre-Pop modern celebration of the utopian possibilities. This collage humorously expresses that in Hollywood rodents are stars. These are positive references to the Mouse, a celebration of utopian possibilities. These collages received little exposure; they were not exhibited. They were only shown as part of a lecture/discussion Paolozzi delivered at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London. This was not open to the public and only a very small group of artists and architects saw the collages.

Since this very quiet debut into the world of fine arts by Mickey and Minnie in 1948 more than eighty artists have used images of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or some other Disney character or image in their art, often repeatedly.[3] In discussing the prevalence of this image with art historians and others, many are surprised at the number of artists who have appropriated the image though most immediately recall images of the Mouse and the Duck in the work of Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Warhol. Some recall the political cartoons by Robert Grossman. Some remember the copyright infringement suit by Disney against Dennis Oppenheim for his sculpture Virus, a metal framework on which are displayed a dozen commercially purchased small statuettes of the Mouse and the Duck. Few are aware that Oppenheim won that suit.

Copyright Laws: Money and Control

Artists appropriating the image of the Mouse without the written consent of Disney have always been exposed to the risk of litigation. Disney first copyrighted images of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in 1928. The images of Mickey and Minnie were first seen in black and white cartoons at the movies. Mickey had long rubbery arms and legs and his overall body was not as rounded as it later became (ill. 1.11, 1.12). New copyright claims were filed by Disney as Mickey’s appearance and personality evolved over the years, moving into color and to more rounded forms over time. From a copyright perspective all the Mickey Mouse images now “belong” to the Disney Corporation. The Disney family, and the corporation it controlled, went to considerable lengths to protect their property. Even the name Walt Disney was registered as a trademark by Roy Disney in the early fifties to prevent anyone from using the name without the permission of the Disney family.[4] The efforts of Disney’s lawyers to secure and enhance ownership of these images under the law have been extensive and complex. The point here is that Disney has always asserted its worldwide ownership of these images and continues to do so.

In time, copyrights expire and copyrighted images enter the public domain, becoming freely available for use by all. As the earliest Disney copyrights of the Mouse approached expiration Disney participated in extensive lobbying of the U.S. Congress to extend the time of ownership under the copyright law for Disney and others’ images. This effort was successful and the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was passed in 1998 and signed into law. Disney’s legal ownership of the Mouse’s image was extended to 2024.[5] “Disney and Mickey Mouse have been the main targets of critics since the passage of the 1998 measure, which they branded ‘a Mickey Mouse copyright law.’ They contend that Disney and other entertainment industry giants showered Congress with campaign contributions to assure passage of the extension thereby assuring continued income from their exclusive holdings.”[6] Money to be made from these images is the point. For example, a lawsuit involving Pooh allows a glimpse of just how much money might be at stake. “In 1991, the Pooh Lady went to court to try to get Disney to pay her more….”[7] Disney did not create Pooh but did acquire exclusive legal rights to use of the image through a license from the heirs of the creator. “Depending on who is shouting…he and his friends generate anywhere from $1 billion to $6 billion a year in revenue for Disney. That even rivals what Mickey Mouse makes and represents as much as a quarter of Disney’s $25 billion annual operating revenue.”[8] Revenues from these images are big business and Disney jealously guards its rights to them.

Development of the Mouse as an Appropriated Image
Copyright laws notwithstanding, I have identified more than eighty artists who have appropriated these very popular, protected images. For nearly 10 years I have collected images by these artists, which I have discovered to be a truly international group spread over three generations, and whose art covers many different styles and media. As a whole these images have never been brought together and analyzed before. In this dissertation, I consider how and why they have used Disney’s images.[9]

The first generation of these artists became familiar with Disney images through movies, comic books, movie posters, books, merchandise, and the Mickey Mouse Clubs.
Also, the Museum of Modern Art, in its 1930’s surrealism show, exhibited certain Disney studio cartoons and painted animation drawings used in film making. The second generation was also exposed to the image through many of these sources, as well as through television and Disneyland because the Mouse was no longer at the movies.

The third generation received additional exposure to the Mouse as a Disney logo on many different products and parks as Disney expanded internationally. The second and third generation artists were familiar with the work of earlier artists, as well as Mouse images promulgated by Disney itself. Almost all of these images, especially Mickey Mouse, are very easily recognizable even though they have been executed in many different styles and media.

Many of the artists are known internationally and are familiar to the general public. Not only are there many artists from the United States, as would be expected, but also numerous British, French, Spanish, Austrian, Mexican, Columbian, Japanese and Chinese artists. No medium has been overlooked. To capture and make the Mouse and other Disney characters and images their own the artists have used collage, painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, photography, performance, video, textile and mixed media techniques and materials. Many of these artists have used the Mouse or Duck only once or twice. Those who have used the same or multiple forms of the image many times over many years include Lichtenstein, Helnwein, Oldenburg, Pensato, Ospina, and Chagoya.
Some have used the image more persistently than others have.

Most of the images are straightforward, but some are not. For example, Christian Boltanski installed
photographs of children, who were members (fans) of the 1955 French Mickey Mouse Club (ills. 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3). Rhonda Zwillinger (ill. 76.1) incorporated the castle at Disneyland into one of her paintings. Burt Payne 3 and Steve Hillenburg (ill. 32.1) used the image of Walt Disney himself in a small plastic sculpture: Walt Disney with mouse ears encased in clear plastic—the frozen Walt doll.[10] Some of these artists have produced a significant body of work based on the Mouse.

Of course, Mickey Mouse’s image did not exist before Disney introduced it in 1928. While there had been other cartoons before Mickey, the Mouse was the first cartoon released with sound. In one of the earliest cartoons Mickey’s image clearly references the popular and heroic figure of Charles Lindbergh, the first aviator to cross the Atlantic alone. Disney referenced popular images that helped to establish the Mouse’s own popularity.

The Mouse has been recognizable internationally for seventy years. Less than two years after the release of the first Mickey Mouse cartoons the first Mickey Mouse Clubs were started. By 1932 there were more than one million members in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.[11] According to Heide and Gilman these clubs were the main outlets for the promotion and distribution of Disney products. Since 1930 Disney has engaged in the legal licensing of images to various other companies. Endless merchandise using the Mouse theme or logo has been produced, marketed, purchased, collected and catalogued. The royalties from the sales of these goods are and has been an important source of revenue for Disney.[12] This was how the image was market when the first generation of artists were children.

1. Diego Rivera, Mickey Mouse and American Art, undated manuscript probably executed November-December 1931 in New York. It was being sold on the internet in 2001. It was item 22369. The asking price was $9,500,000.
2. American artist Stuart Davis used commercial images in art, but I have not seen the Mouse. But, Robert Hughes saw similar motif to Disney’s in Davis’s The Mellow Pad, 1945-51. Hughes says, “…the bopping rhythm of nervous shapes, superimposed over what began as a formalized view of the street from a New York window (which leaves its traces in the rectangular background outline of warehouse windows and bays, and the fragment of brick wall seen in yellow and green in the lower left corner), is a vastly more sophisticated version of the kind of abstract ‘musical’ form that Walt Disney, five years before, had attempted in Fantasia.” See Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981, 331-333.
3. Terry Allen, Michael Arata, Eduardo Arroyo, John Bankston, Meredith Bergman, Peter Blake, Stanford Bigger, Erica Bogin, Christian Boltanski, Michel Boulanger, Blake Boyd, Bob Buccella, Luis Camnitzer, Enrique Chagoya, Tseng Kwong Chi, Emily Cohen, Robbie Conal, Herman Costa, Robert Crumb, Ronnie Cutrone, Daniel Daligand, Mark Dion, Nicole Eisenman, Ron English, Equipo Crόnica (Rafael Solbes and Manuel Valdés), Karen Finley, Howard Finster, Llyn Foulkes, Miran Fukuda, Thomas Gieseke, Robert Grossman, Philip Guston, Keith Haring, Gottfried Helnwein, Steven Hillenburg, Katsuya Ise, Alain Jacquet, Ray Johnson, Kawsone, Ed Kienholz, Emmeric James Konrad, Alexander Kosolapov, Mark Kostabi, Mark Lancaster, Roy Lichtenstein, Sandra Low, John “Crash” Matos, Peter Max, Paul McCarthy, Julia Morrisroe, Takashi Murakami, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Nadin Ospina, Eduardo Paolozzi, Kenton Parker, Burt Payne 3, Philip Pearlstein, Joyce Pensato, Richard Pettibone, Lilliana Porter, Bernard Pras, Fiona Rae, Bernard Rancillac, Ernest Ruckle, Brian Ruppel, Peter Saul, Adrian Saxes, Lesley Schiff, Todd Shorr, J. Otto Siebold, Juane Quick-to-See-Smith, William Snyder, Eliezer Sonnenschein, Jose Torres Tama, Carmen Teixidor, Harvé Télémaque, Robin Tewes, Wayne Thiebaud, Arthur Tress, Tu-2 (Ying Ming Tu), Jeramy Turner, Manuel Valdés, Ben Verkaaik, Andy Warhol, Peter Williams, Jennifer Zackin and Rhonda Zwillinger.
4. Bob Thomas, Building A Company, Roy O. Disney And The Creation Of An Entertainment Empire. New York: Hyperion Books, 1998, 182
5. This issue is not yet settled. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was attacked in litigation which has been carried to the United States Supreme Court in a case heard October 9, 2002. The Court upheld the Act.
6. Bill Hillburg, “Mickey Mouse at center of Supreme Court copyright case, Los Angeles Times Daily News, URL;http://www.salijournal.com/stories/090802/ent_ mickey.html
7. This case is California Superior court case file # BC022365. Amy Wallace, “Lawyers, Tiggers & Bears, Oh My!” Los Angeles Magazine (August 2002): 83.
8. Amy Wallace, “Lawyers, Tiggers & Bears, Oh My!” Los Angeles Magazine (August 2002): 83.
9. No matter how thorough I have been, there is always one more artist, or image by one of these artists, that I did not know about. I apologize to any artist I have missed. It was not intentional. There is a group of artists, some whom are listed in the above footnote, who appear in the book, The Art of Mickey Mouse. This is strictly a picture book, which does not include dates of the artwork or any biographical material on the artists. I have not mentioned most of these artists because most of the images in the book were created specifically for this book in the late 1980s, mainly by artists who are illustrators, designers, or comic book artists by profession. Another group of artists who were shown by the Alternative Art Museum exhibit on the Mouse, which was curated by Geno Rodriguez and is now archived on the Internet. All the other artists and material were collected from other exhibits that I have seen (museums, galleries), articles, books, catalogues, reviews, posters, ads in art magazines, the artists’ files and other material in the Art Library at LACMA, Art Library at MOMA, The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, or The Andy Warhol Foundation. Some of these artists were pointed out to my by friends. Thank you for looking. Other material has been collected from: Special Collections at the University of Hawaii, The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village Benson Ford Research Center, Getty Special Collections, the Archives of American Art in Washington D.C., the Walt Disney Archive, lawyers, psychiatrists, artists, spouses of artists, art dealers, museum curators, and many others.
10. Frozen Walt, is a sculpture that is based on the rumor that Walt Disney was frozen and remains in a cryogenic state awaiting to be revived later when medical science can cure him. He died of lung cancer in December of 1966.
11. Robert Heide and John Gilman, Disneyana, Classic Collectibles 1928-1958. New York: Hyperion, 1995, 33.
12. There is a long legal history in the United States and abroad of Disney’s defense of its rights to Mickey and other characters.
13. Benday dots refers to the miniscule dots of transferred color that are produced in lithography and photoengraving printing process invented by Benjamin Day.
14. Doug Harvey conversation with Lichtenstein, reported to me in 1994 by Harvey.
15. Peter Selz, Henry Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer, Dore Ashton, Leo Steinberg, Stanley Kunitz, “A Symposium on Pop Art,” reprinted in Steven Henry Madoff, edited. Pop Art: A Critical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 78.
16. Selz, Geldzahler, Kramer, Ashton, Steinberg, Kunitz, 66.
17. Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey now hangs at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., except when it is on loan. I saw it both at the Pompidou, and again at the National Gallery. Oldenburg’s Mouse seems to be everywhere. Ospina’s Mouse was in a show in Madrid. Helnwein’s and Pensato’s were at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This is not comprehensive by any means. The dissemination of the image of the Mouse by artists is as prolific as Disney.
18. In general I have simplified the discussion by stating that the artists have used the Mouse, instead of repeating the Mouse and other Disney images. Most of the images used by the artists are of the Mouse, but there are some exceptions, including the Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Minnie, and the Castle from Disneyland.
Last updated on Sat Jan 8 20:45:17 2005

Art and Poetry of Holly Crawford

Copyrighted by Holly Crawford 2003.
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2004 Holly Crawford