ArtInsights Gallery

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Editorial Review

Cels Sell Well at ArtInsights
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2003

ON THE WALLS of ArtInsights, a Reston gallery devoted to original and limited-edition animation art -- the only one in Virginia, according to its owners -- you'll find a production cel from "The Simpsons" (Homer in a loincloth fashioned out of a welcome mat) along with a pair of preliminary sketches showing Disney's Pluto in a variety of cute action poses. You'd be hard-pressed, however, to find the two characters on the wall of the same collector's house.

That's according to Leslie Combemale, at least.

"Not gonna happen," she says with confidence. Together with ArtInsights co-owner Michael Barry, the two have a combined three decades of experience as animation art dealers, the last nine of them as partners, and they clearly know their stuff, not just the vintage Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons that form the core of their business, but the contemporary works contributing to what both believe is a second golden age of animation. Collectors of Disney cartoon art tend to skew older, Combemale has found, perhaps because collectible Mouse House images tend to be among the most expensive. Furthermore, Disney fans as a group have what might be called conservative tastes, steering clear of what Barry calls the "edgier" new stuff: "Ren and Stimpy," for instance, or Nickelodeon's "Angry Beavers," in addition to the nose-thumbing "Simpsons."

When pressed, Combemale pegs me for a fan of the latter style -- no doubt due to my scruffy facial hair and severe eyewear -- a devotee, perhaps, of "Aeon Flux," she guesses, the late sci-fi/action series starring a sexy femme fatale that ran on MTV's "Liquid Television." (Sorry, haven't had cable in years, but I do like "King of the Hill.")

Combemale is not just a skilled handicapper, though. She and Barry are fonts of historical, technical and artistic information. Even a short visit to the gallery is likely to leave one knowing more about cellulose nitrate and acetate than one would have thought possible.

Once the standard in the early days of the animation industry, the clear sheets of cellulose nitrate (cels, for short) on which the drawings were made have long since been abandoned in favor of the far more stable acetate, which does not buckle, yellow or turn brittle. Much animation these days, of course, is done entirely on computer. " 'Finding Nemo,' for example, is represented at ArtInsights by a limited-edition giclee, or digital, print, which Combemale says has been selling "like hotcakes." That would mean seven so far, a lot for a limited edition.

And who knew that a picture of Lady wearing a muzzle from the film "Lady and the Tramp" could be had at the relative bargain price of around $200? "Who wants it?" asks Combemale rhetorically. "Everyone has to have the scene with Lady and Tramp eating spaghetti." Disney collectors, she points out, are largely driven by a kind of sweet nostalgia for a particular feature film, and nobody wants to see their beloved hero in bondage.

Except maybe us edgy types.