“Ciao, sono Valentina Scagnolari, di Venezia, e faccio l’illustratrice”

Hi, I am Valentina, and I am an illustrator in the midst of my latest expedition @ LACMA. A gigantic, terrifying, clown-like mouth swallows up visitors into Tim Burton’s world, like a portal for another dimension, looking like the entrance of a ghost train in a weird Amusement Park.

Tim Burton Exhibit LACMA

Tim Burton Exhibition's entrance

The first encounter is with three multi-eyed black creatures (Three Creatures 2009: steel, burlap, epoxy, polyester resin, paint, and rigid foam). They have sharp white teeth and small atrophic wings. But what strikes me the most are their eyes, lots of eyes, some set in a rounded head or mounted at the end of a piranha mouth, others hanging from thin and long structures, looking like dead branches or creepy flower stems.

The subject of the “eye” is a recurring theme in Tim Burton’s art: wild-eyes often without lids, just a dazed eye-ball with a dot-shaped pupil.

This type of eye is the same in most of his drawings, from his earliest works until the more recent ones.

Tim Burton artworks

Three Creatures - 2009


Tim Burton illustration

Tim Burton sketches

Artwork Tim Burton

Tim Burton at LACMA

As an illustrator, the first thing I do is look for his drawings and paintings. That is what I’m here for. I see them hanging on a wall in front of me and I make a dart towards them.

It’s not by mistake that in this first room we can admire a wide-range collection of drawings, apparently unrelated to one another: the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter, nearby Edward Scissorhands, and other random sketches, all outlined with a wavy, quick sign and a few strokes of pastel colors.

They are part of a recent production and they represent Tim Burton’s visual trademark.

They are the icon, the “logo” he has become, which is immediately recognizable. That’s what everyone expects from him now. It is the perfect opening: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Tim Burton!”

Tim Burton draw

The Red Queen

Tim Burton Romeo

Romeo and Juliet | 1981–1984

But as soon as you start walking through the other rooms you slowly begin to descend into the core, the center of the artist’s soul, into his mind.

I would love to discover a new aspect of his work, since everyone already knows Mr. Burton director-writer-genius-at-work , so it is with anticipation, that I am ready to meet for the first time the young Tim, and that’s exciting.

The second room contains the first drawings, the very beginnings of his art, from elementary to high school: lists of horror movies he liked, drawings inspired to horror and science fiction creatures, some works made at school like CRUSH LITTER (paint on metal, 1975), which won a first prize at a competition for a littering campaign. Nice.

Tim Burton red

Illustration by Tim Burton

What is really interesting is the contrast between these first Tim Burton works and the ones we all know. The technique was totally different, but in a paradoxical way it was more precise, the lines were clearer, the eyes were sweet and cartoony.

This may seem strange to a non-expert eye, but it is a very common phenomenon for people who can draw. I saw it happening to me too; as long as you exercise and get better and better, your style changes from more rigid shapes to more spontaneous and sometimes less “precise” lines.

I can recognize myself in his earliest works, in his attempts to imitate Disney style, his first characters inspired by movies and comic books. That is what I used to do when I was little.

It’s astonishing for me to see him when he hadn’t developed his character (as a man) yet. It’s as if…we are catching him in a very private moment. And the more unexpected side of his personality is the deep sense of humor he always had, since his very own childhood. That humor will turn later in life into Burton’s grotesque cynicism we all like and know.

I like to observe how much he experimented (from the study of human anatomy to aliens and monsters) and how much his style changed within a few years, inspired by Disney’s cartoons. We can clearly see it in the study of a horse’s body titled Charlie Horse (1979/82).

A change in style happens between High School and College when he starts to define his imagery. After two years at the CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) the passage is almost complete. The lines become thinner, his humor becomes darker. We can see a good example of this passage comparing THE GIANT ZLIG, a children book project (ink and markers, 1976) and the drawing made only a few years later titled Mothera (1980).

draw Tim Burton

Mothera - 1980

The third important passage I notice in Tim Burton’s career is signed by his job at Disney. He worked as an animator for four years. The passage is physically marked by entering the third room of the exhibit, which is also the most colorful and heterogeneous one. And which is also my favorite. What interests me the most is how much he experimented in those years. He tried so many different styles and techniques. What all this communicates to me is an incredible sense of freedom: he had an intuition and he immediately sketched it out. Then, after a certain time (even a few years) he came back to that intuition and made a film.

Tim Burton little dead


Tim Burton blue girl

BLUE GIRL WITH WINE - oil on canvas - 1997

Tim Burton Ramone

Ramone | 1980–1990

That’s why at this point the exhibition may seem not to have as much of a structure, the drawings and paintings don’t follow a precise chronological order and you can find an ink sketch from 1978 next to an oil canvas from 1997. But this choice must have been made for a reason: this room is the real heart of the exhibition, the real heart of the artist; that passage from “just Tim” to Tim Burton, the brand.

The last passage, the most crucial one, happens when you are going through black velvet curtains into a dark room with neon lights, a little, weird fluorescent carousel, fluorescent drawings and paintings all over the walls and inside little cubbies. From this dreamy place we arrive into the last rooms, which contain everything that concerns Tim Burton’s career as a director: heirlooms from his movies, little statues, puppets, scene costumes, story boards, etc.

I’m sure this last part of the tour is what attracted people the most. After all, they came here to see what they expect him to be.

I came with no expectations and I liked discovering a new side of him, a side that makes him closer to me and makes me dream: “Maybe someday…”

This exhibition organized by Museum Of Modern Arts, New York, and now presented at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is not just a regular museum event, but instead is an exciting journey into the mind and soul of one of the most beloved film directors of our times.

This article was written by illustrator Valentina Scagnolari – www.valentinascagnolari.com

Tim Burton

Over 700 drawings, paintings, photographs, film and video works, storyboards, puppets, concept sketches, maquettes, costumes, and artwork from unrealized projects.

Resnick Pavilion

May 29, 2011–October 31, 2011