In 1928 at a studio in California, two men crafted the image of an icon that would permeate the minds of people in almost every country on the planet. The two men were Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, and of course their legendary creation was the world-famous Mickey Mouse. Today this image is so ingrained into the minds of anyone who has consumed pop culture in the last decade that now it can be represented simply by three circles. This simplistic iconography is what has helped the Disney name and brand traverse boundaries so easily, but it also leaves its most prized possession open to parody.
It isn’t hard to find street art; or any art for that matter that uses the symbol of the mouse as a platform for familiarity or a basis for a political point. Huge names such as Ron English, Banksy and KAWS have all put a spin on Mickey. In fact, there are even exhibits solely focused around artist adaptations of the famed rodent, such as the Twisted Mouse at Grand Central’s PIQ.
It’s tough to nail down exactly what Mickey means today. He is often used as the ultimate mascot of consumerism, since he is now the face of a company worth over 90 Billion dollars. Some artists use him to show blind optimism, an almost moronic level of happiness in a world of disaster, oblivious to the evils that run amuck all around it. No doubt there is a level of falsehood, as he companies aim to provide happiness is not without profit or misdeed. Out of all the mascots and logos available Mickey may just be the ‘head’ of super brands, since his company, among a few others, are in control of so much money, power and the very mindset of citizens. This combination is no doubt why the ears or body of this rubbery, wide-eyed culture icon are replicated in so many works of satire.
Cartoon’s have since evolved greatly since the late twenties, and their market of children alone has drastically changed. Thanks to the animators of the 90’s and shows that were questionably appropriate for children, creators eventually moved into an era of adult cartoons. Shows like South Park paved the way for these aesthetically simplistic and colourful characters to become the opposite of kid-friendly, allowing stories with richer (or more ridiculous) context to be told. Now entire brands churn out shows in this vein, which begs the question, why the cartoon look?
There is undoubtedly something very pure about the cartoon aesthetic. A more exaggerated version of reality, a more vivid representation of the world and, despite this, an easy-to-see caricature of humanity. Regardless of the palette, style or physics, many people feel they are well represented by cartoons, just look at Matt Groenings equally significant everyday family – The Simpsons. Cartoon imagery shows us in an undiluted form that is more pleasing to look at than the real thing, allowing artists to use this to their advantage.
Thanks to the cultural significance and nostalgia of cartoons, they will always conjure up particular feelings and ideas in our minds. Their simplicity is partly designed for reproduction, which is why artists love to use them again and again. For these reasons the use of cartoon characters in art will not diminish, if anything it already seems to be growing. If only Mickey knew what he was going to become.