It’s not all about ArtInsights, sometimes it’s about someone really cool doing something inspiring…It isn’t often that my work with ArtInsights and my work amplifying movie artists below the line collide, but here we are! As I move into my the new phase of ArtInsights online, I want to cover some artists and their work that goes beyond the work our site carries, because animators and film artists do so much more than the work they create in their careers in animation. It seems perfect, given my own passion for activism, that the first “Artist Insights” is Disney artist Marlon West.
Disney special effects artist Marlon West’s collection of comic book illustration-styled portraits are being featured in an exhibit called Ink Tributes. Formerly shown at the Museum of Social Justice, they are now at the Saint. Louis University Museum of Art, at an exhibit that opened on August 25th, and will run through December 30th, 2023.
The series is a collection of portraits of victims of police brutality and racial discrimination, as well as heroes and icons of Black excellence. Speaking about the images upon the opening in St. Louis, West explained, “For many of us Black nerds, Marvel’s characters are particularly relatable. They are often hated and hunted by the powers that be. They are aliens, or born different, or having to deal with harsh cards dealt to them. They are feared, despised, shunned, and misunderstood. There isn’t a more American form of portraiture than black ‘inks’ over white, to honor those that faced this nation’s fear and loathing of the Black body.”
A St. Louis native, West is known as an award-winning animator, Head of Effects, and Special Effects Supervisor at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios. Some of his most recent credits include Encanto, Frozen and Frozen II, and Moana. With a career that has spanned over 25 years, he also worked on classics like The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules, Mulan, Meet the Robinsons, and The Princess and the Frog. You can watch Marlon talk about his career on this official interview with Disney Plus:
I became “friends” with Marlon on Facebook after I interviewed him about Frozen II for The Credits, which was shortly before the pandemic.
(You can read the interview I did with Marlon HERE.)
By the time the pandemic was in full swing, Marlon was already posting his drawings on social media, and I noticed them right away. Some of my favorites were of John Lewis, who I met at San Diego Comic-Con when he was doing a panel before mine. I got seriously tongue-tied, because Representative Lewis was a major hero of mine. He was called “the conscience of the Congress”, and was famous for what he called “good trouble”. If you don’t know about John Lewis, you can learn about him in this documentary:
Many of the Ink Tributes are of victims of police brutality, some during the pandemic, like George Floyd, Bryanna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbury, which sparked the historic Black Lives Matter movement, others are of lives lost throughout recent American history, like Emmett Till. Till’s portrait is a positive representation of the young man before he was brutalized, bringing humanity to an American citizen who could have made an important difference in society. West created over 40 images of important figures in the Black Lives Matter movement, including allies like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris.
Marlon also spearheaded a black and white photo of Black animation professionals at Disney, “A Great Day in Animation”, as inspired by “A Great Day in Harlem”, a photograph of 57 jazz musicians taken in 1957 by Art Kane. “A Great Day in Animation” was taken by Randy Shropshire, with Jeff Vespa as production lead. Marlon envisioned the photograph to feature Disney Legend and all around wonderful guy Floyd Norman in the center of the picture, surrounded by Black Disney professionals.
You can read more about it on the great website Good Black News, HERE as well as on Variety HERE, where there’s a video of the day they took the photograph, and includes Marlon talking about his inspiration to get these animation professionals together for it.
You can watch Floyd talk about his experience in animation on one of the San Diego Comic-Con panels I have moderated for ArtInsights and ASIFA Hollywood, and on which I have had the honor to celebrate him:
To read about each tribute in Marlon West’s Ink Tributes, you can go to the Museum of Social Justice page about the exhibit, which includes images and short biographies about each person illustrated HERE.
You can visit the Ink Tributes exhibit at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art anytime between now and December 30th. The museum is free of charge, and open between 11am and 4pm Wednesday and Sunday.