James Todd: Looney Toones

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JAMES TODD: LOONEY TOONES, is sponsored by the Montana Museum of Art & Culture. On the occasion of his retirement from teaching at the University of Montana in 2000, James Todd’s mother paid him a visit bearing a collection of drawings he had made between the ages of five and eight. He had not seen the drawings in over 50 years. The fluid lines of his pencil drawings of American GI’s returning from the war in Europe, knights in armor, and a visit to the dentist greeted the artist across decades and a lifetime of experience.

In this exhibition and the accompanying catalog, Todd has reinterpreted his childhood drawings through woodcut printing, the medium for which he is perhaps best known today. By his own description, James Todd decided long ago not to confine his creative work to any particular approach or aesthetic philosophy. And by any measure, Looney Toones is the triumphant result of that decision, exemplifying Todd’s own definition of the Modern artist, “whose expression could grow and change along with the course of the artist’s life experiences and interests.”

Looney Toones distills James Todd’s own insistence that no work of art can be adequately understood in isolation from the social and historical circumstances of its time. Each drawing accompanies a contemporary print that, while based closely on the original forms, embellishes them with bright, unmixed acrylics in vibrant combinations. Stippled or hatched areas of color in the figures frequently contrast with colors paired to create atmospheric backgrounds, saturating what was once a child’s visions with the mastery of the woodblock printer. Sometimes the child’s experience is reimagined altogether through combined imagery, for example in The Leopard in the Living Room and Fisherman & Helper, which may depict a dream scene or a memory of the fisherman’s terminal.

Through this aesthetic encounter with his long-forgotten past, Todd’s Looney Toones fuses the boy’s innocent vision with the acumen of the mature artist, sharpened by a lifetime of creative endeavor.

October 20, 2019 – January 20, 2020: Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Great Falls February 1 – May 1, 2020: MonDak Heritage Center, Sidney

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