Len Lye Biography


Len Lye (1901-1980) was born in New Zealand, lived in Australia, Samoa, London and finally New York. As a painter, kinetic sculptor (sculpture with movement), writer, theorist, musician, experimental artist, photographer and filmmaker, Lye was one of the pioneers of creating ways to make films without the use of a camera. Lye was fascinated by a theory he developed evoked by a question from an art teacher challenging him to find his own art theory. His idea was to compose motion as one would compose sound. He found it a cheaper route to create the movements he envisioned for his films by scratching or painting directly onto celluloid. Lye began finding advertising sponsors to finance his films such as Shell Oil, Imperial Airways and the British General Post Office, who were looking for innovative ways to convey messages to vast audiences.

Lye was a member of numerous art groups during his 60-year career. He was a member of the GPO Film Unit in England, the Seven and five Society Artists in London during the twenties and the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. He was a writer and artist for many avant-garde magazines and other publications. During the 1940s and 1950s in New York, he was involved with the Abstract Expressionist artists and the underground filmmakers.

During the latter part of his life, although he continued with film, Lye focused mainly on creating metal sculptures that he motorized. He used such things as pieces of music wire rods representing individual blades of grass clinking against each other creating a unique movement and sound as though it were a dance piece.

Lyes numerous influences that ranged from Freud to Polynesian ritual dances to Jazz and his methods of expressing his visions made him an eccentric and captivating artist that has inspired many artists of his generation and today.

--Jessica Lewis, 2003

Len Lye