Walt Disney Artist George Scribner Captures the Beauty of Panama

Panama and Walt Disney World may, upon first glance, not appear to have much in common. But the artist George Scribner sees unique beauty and color in both destinations. If you’ve been to Walt Disney World, you’ve probably seen his work. Most recently, his oil-on-canvas paintings have graced The Little Mermaid and Dumbo attractions.

Now, Scribner — who was born and raised in Panama and is now based in California — is working on a series of paintings depicting the expansion of the Panama Canal. In this exclusive interview, he talks about his inspiration — and his favorite Panama travel tips. (See more of his work at www.scribnerart.com.)

How did growing up in Panama affect your visual point of view and your artistic approach? 
My grandmother and mother both painted, and I was always surrounded with half-opened tubes of oil paint and canvasses and the pungent smell of turpentine (thankfully, it’s gotten a lot better). I was always attracted to the bold palette of colors and designs on the streets of Panama. It’s a mix of so many cultures and very expressive art forms, from the Cunas to local folk art, to the sides of buses. Art is everywhere in Panama.

How did your current on-going project and commission from the Republic of Panama come about? 
This was actually my wife’s idea. We were on a trip to Panama and were visiting the rotunda in the Panama Canal administration building. The building features murals of the original canal construction done almost a hundred years ago. She suggested doing paintings of the Canal Expansion similar in style to these and the construction paintings hanging in the building. I give the Panama Canal Authority a lot of credit — they had apparently set aside funds in their budget to have artists represent the work. I began in 2007 and have delivered around 25 paintings. They vary in size from smaller, more intimate portraits of the workforce to larger panoramas up to 4′ X 6′.

I’d already painted a number of scenes of the existing Panama Canal over the years. Having read the history of the construction and growing up with it,  it was always a subject matter that had fascinated me.

You’ve done truly beautiful work with the Walt Disney company. As you turned your eye to the Panama Canal — and Panama in general — did you see certain visual elements, colors or themes that struck a chord based on your other work, or is it a very different experience?
In both cases I’m attracted to people and painting the smaller, more personal scenes. I think it gives you a glimpse into the culture and locale that a long shot misses. For the expansion, I suggested focusing on the Panamanian workforce as well as the larger scenes. I suggested we should celebrate the fact that most of the work is being done by Panamanians, unlike the original canal.

How much time are you spending in Panama during the course of this project? 
I travel to Panama twice a year. In the spring I usually go for seven to 10 days. During that time, we’ll decide on the paintings I’ll do that year. Based on those choices, I’ll paint on location, doing small studies and taking reference shots. The selection of paintings are based on the construction schedule. At this point, the paintings are about the construction of the locks.

Once I have the studies and photos, the finished paintings are done in my studio in California. I need a lot of space to do some of these which range up to 6 feet in length.

In September I return to Panama to submit the finished paintings and hope they’re happy with them 🙂

There have been incredible changes and growth in Panama — and especially Panama City — in recent years. How would you describe the evolution of Panama?
It’s changed so much. Growing up it was a pretty small, laid-back city. Sounds incredible, I know. The cool side of all this growth is there is so much to do now and frankly, it’s a more sophisticated place to live. You can still find the old Panama in the interior and smaller towns and beaches that haven’t been overrun with resorts. It’s a must if you visit Panama.

A lot of your Panama work depicts the beauty of uniquely Panamanian traditions and settings — traditional clothing, the historic Casco Antiguo district, the Diablo Rojo buses, the beauty of the beaches and wildlife. Does the rapidly growing skyline of Panama City, with its soaring skyscrapers and 21st-century look, inspire you as an artist?
I’ll miss the character of the older city, and hope they make an effort to preserve as much of it as they can. I’ve always enjoyed painting the textures and architecture in the Casco Viejo. It’s uniquely Panamanian. With the ongoing construction of the city and changing landscape, you could be anywhere in the world. There are parts of the interior like Penonome and Santiago that still retain this character and feel.

When friends visit Panama City, what are the three top things you recommend that they see or do?
1. Go to the beaches. If possible rent a house vs staying at one of the newer beach resorts.
2. See the Canal, of course. The lookout at Miraflores Locks is excellent, and the building houses displays and interactive media on the original construction and plans for the future. It’s well done.
3. Drink the local beer and eat vast amounts of Corvina (Panama’s version of sea bass) and ceviche. I travel a lot for Disney and still haven’t found fish that fresh or better prepared anywhere else. Maybe its just me…I am a little biased.

LF Awards: Best Hotels in Panama City, Panama
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Panama Travel Tips: Touring the Natural Beauty of El Valle del Antón

 Panama photo gifts, travel gadgets, cell phone cases & other great gift ideas:
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