Len Lye Characteristics

Len Lye was indeed an eccentric and innovative multi-media artist. He is best known for his experimental filmmaking and kinetic sculptures, yet he was also a writer, painter, theorist and a musician. Movement was a life force to Lye. He incorporated movement into all of his work and used film and sculpture to capture light and movement. He was an animator with his films and sculptures. Lye was one of the first to scratch, paint and stencil directly on celluloid thus making a film without a camera. His films were groundbreaking, deemed masterpieces, organic and sometimes controversial. His 1929 film Tusalava, meaning Œjust the same¹ in Samoan, was thought by the British Board of Censors to be about sex and was almost refused a certificate (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery). Major corporations sponsored many of Lye¹s films for financial support. For example, When the Pie was Opened 1941, was sponsored by the Ministry of Information as a wartime film used to inform people how to prepare a pie during the food shortage of the time.

Rhythm and sound were important to Lye¹s work. He combined jazz, African drums, Cuban music, and piano scores with his animations and visual journeys. Lye¹s 1957 Rhythm was a montage he did for Chrysler where he was asked to take 1-_ hours of film footage of the assembling of a car and cut it down to 1 minute while conveying the same message in the original. This film won first prize in a competition in New York but was disqualified because Chrysler ultimately rejected it (Govett-Brewster).

He worked on motorized metal sculptures he called Tangibles. They are tangible motion sculptures. One sculpture called Fountain 3.5 uses strips of highly reflective metal bunched together at the bottom creating a fountain-like sculpture, with the base rotating creating the metal strips to move. He wanted to make light and sculpture tangible. Lye focused mainly on his kinetic sculptures up until his death in 1980.

--Jessica Lewis, 2003

Len Lye