Mickey Mouse at 93: The Origins of Walt Disney’s Enduring Animated Character

Neon displays from “Mickey: The True Original,” an immersive exhibition staged in New York City in 2018 to coincide with Mickey Mouse’s 90th anniversary. Photo Courtesy: Kate Bove/AMG

In 2012, artist Damien Hirst was approached by The Walt Disney Company to produce a piece inspired by the company’s enduring ambassador, Mickey Mouse. The result? A gloss on canvas painting and a subject composed entirely of circles — black, yellow, red and off-white circles, to be exact.

Despite Hirst’s relatively abstract approach to recreating Mickey on canvas, it’s still immediately clear who the artist has painted, even if you see the work removed from any Disney-related context. “It’s using simple means to capture the very essence of his form solely through the power of color,” Hirst said of the painting. “I love that the imagery is so powerful that it only takes twelve different colored dots to create something so instantly recognizable.”

Undoubtedly, this speaks to Mickey Mouse’s timelessness. In 2019, The Walt Disney Family Museum displayed a 2014 version of Hirst’s painting, Mickey for Bob, alongside other depictions of the character as part of a special exhibition-meets-Mickey-retrospective, Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World. The other featured artists ranged from the likes of pop art authority Andy Warhol to San Francisco-based muralist Sirron Norris; although they varied greatly, the works in this aspect of the exhibition underscored not only Mickey’s continued relevance, but the way in which the character has become much more than a brand ambassador.

On November 18, 2018, Mickey Mouse turned 90, and now, as he nears 100 (and a landmark copyright expiration date), we’re taking a look back on the origins of Walt Disney’s most well-known creation.