I never met Jess Rubio, but as a live caricaturist and the owner of several theme park caricature operations I sure heard about him.
Rubio was the “face” of caricatures and art concessions at the Walt Disney theme parks. He started as a fill in portrait artist in 1957 at Disneyland, and a chance meeting with Walt Disney when Rubio came in early to set up his location started him on a road that led to his being the exclusive art concession operator in all the Disney theme parks in California and Florida. For about 40 years after, if there was ever consideration of a portrait or caricature operation in any of the Disney parks, Rubio was the guy who did it. Eventually some other operations were allowed in… but they are few and far between. My good buddy Keelan Parham and his company Caricature Connection have a location in Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and I know of a couple of other small locations there and in WDW’s Hollywood Studios and several in some of the shopping and resort areas, but essentially if Disney was going to do caricatures it was Rubio’s gig. Rubio also did other stuff in the parks like the balloons with Mickey ears.
A lot of live caricaturists in the 60s-80s got their start with Rubio, who personally trained most of his artists, so his stamp is on a lot of the styles of live caricature out there. For decades his artists did profile caricatures on clear acetate sheets using an overhead projector, so the crowd was able to easily watch the work being done on a screen. That and the person’s name in bubble letters became a defacto look of live caricatures for a long, long time because of Rubio’s influence. Easily over a million people have had their visits to Disney commemorated by a Rubio artist.
As a caricature concession owner, it was always a bit frustrating that Disney was never open to other concession companies having locations in their parks… particularly since the potential of such an operation is quite staggering. Disney has never been interested in a “Six Flags” style operation that was designed for maximum efficiency and profitability with multiple artists in a custom building designed for high volume. Their philosophy on art concessions has always been more of a street artist approach, often with only one or two artists set up in a single area with folding chairs and umbrellas… not designed for making big money but more for the charm and ambiance of it. They still keep things low key, and have no interest in a bigger concession company opening multiple locations in their parks. Rubio has always been the “Disney caricaturist” and I doubt their philosophy changes. He must have been content with that arrangement… basically exclusive rights to art concessions and the Disney parks and staying low key and somewhat transient. His operations would be open for a few years in one spot then close and maybe reappear later in another place.
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