As one of the pioneers of early animation, Chuck Jones perfected many of the techniques that would influence and inspire later generations of artists.
Jones also helped create and gave life to many of the world’s most beloved and iconic cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew and many and many more.
A special exhibit, “Chuck Jones: Drawing on Imagination—100 Years of an Animated Artist,” recently opened at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, presenting several rare pieces of original art from Jones, including animation cels, backgrounds, model sheets, storyboards and layout drawings, along with personal paintings, letters, photographs and models.
We took a tour with museum curator Andrew Farago (author of the excellent 2010 book “The Looney Tunes Treasury”), who shared the story of how the exhibit came to be, and the importance of Chuck Jones not only in the animation world, but popular culture at large.
How did this retrospective exhibit come about here in San Francisco?
Our director was at a screening of Chuck Jones shorts at Pixar, and Chuck’s grandson, Craig, was in attendance and mentioned that the family still has a major archive of Chuck’s work, and that they loved San Francisco, and it would be great if we could do a show here.
Last year, was his centennial—celebrating 100 years since Chuck was born—and it just seemed like a natural fit—100 years, let’s do 100 pieces.
I suggested let’s look at as many of those 100 years as we can, so we actually go back to his first directorial effort, The Night Watchman, and go through some of his final professional works in the 1990s—so it’s a nice 50-plus year chunk of his career.
Are there any pieces in this collection that the public has not seen before?
This particular collection has never been shown like this before; there are a lot of his personal paintings in here, so it’s a lot of it that hasn’t been seen outside of his family. He seemed to be very restless as far as creativity was concerned, so he did a lot of side projects that are really fun.
The exhibit is set up chronologically, running from the 1930s up through the 1990s, and featuring a variety of works situated together. Rather than get all of his animation drawings together, or all his cels and backgrounds together, you actually get to see an oil painting of his daughter next to a Road Runner model sheet, and one of his modern art experiments next to a Pepe Le Pew background. It’s really fun seeing his development as an artist.
For those who might not know who Chuck Jones is, would you say that once they see some of his work or hear more about it, they know exactly who you are talking about?
Every time I explain this show to people, if they don’t know the name, I just have to start describing one of the cartoons, and then they’ll immediately know who I’m talking about.
Chuck Jones is well known for his work for Warner Bros. and Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, but he also did a lot of other famous work as well, such as the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, correct?
Yes—and everybody’s seen the Grinch—everybody sees it every Christmas, my nephew has it on DVD and watches almost non-stop throughout December. Jones also did The Phantom Tollbooth, Riki Tiki Tavi, The White Seal and some Tom and Jerry.
What has putting this exhibit together meant to you personally?
I’m sorry I never had the opportunity to meet Jones, but it’s been great working with his family. Having grown up on this stuff, having studied this as much as I have, it’s really, really special to be able to bring it to the public like this.
Are there any special events planned during the course of the exhibition?
Yes, on March 23rd there will be an opening reception; the first hour is going to be a VIP ticket, and we’ll actually have tours of the exhibition conducted by his family—we’re working out the details now, but the plan is that one of the groups will be able to get a tour with his grandson, and another group will be able to get a tour with his daughter. I’m really looking forward to that myself, to get to tag along and hear the stories behind the artwork.
Chuck Jones: Drawing on Imagination—100 Years of an Animated Artist
Open Through May 5
$3-$7; children 6 and under free