Monday, 29 March 2010

Abstract Cinema 5: Len Lye

A number of the film makers and animators featured throughout this blog are represented because of their work of abstract nature. I do not think that I am a colourist or influenced directly by animators like Len Lye. The colour seems extracted from that of Gaugain alongside the brightness and ecstasy of Matisse and the Fauves.

Lye’s first film was Tusalava, but his first camera-less film was Colour Box (1935) “considered to be the first animation film painted directly on film and shown to general audiences” (Russet and Starr, 1976 p. 65). Colour Box was produced for the G.P.O.

The non-objective and non-linear nature of Colour Box “is created with lines and shapes stencilled directly on to celluloid, changing colour and form throughout its five duration” (Wells, 1998 p. 46). The film is made up of lines which dominate throughout alongside “circles, triangles and grids interrupting and temporarily joining the image, until it reveals its sponsors, the G.P.O Unit, by including various rates of parcel post” (Wells, 1998 p. 46).

The films modernity was not just expressed in its imagery, but also in its use of “a contemporary jazz-calypso score” (Wells 1998, p.46). Lye’s modernity lay also in the way in which his films pointed to the future, not the future it seems of animation or film, but that of painting. It is interesting to note that “Lye adapted the free brush work and wax-resist techniques he had developed in his batik paintings” that allowed him “to paint directly onto clear 35 mm film” (Watson, 1997 p.48). The result is gestural and “calligraphic” (LeGrice, 1977 p. 771) an effect closer to the aesthetics of the action painters like Kline or the more abstract de Kooning.


Beck, J., (2004) Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, The History of Cartoon, Anime and CGI London: Flame Tree Publishing.

LeGrice, M. (1977) Abstract Film and Beyond, Cambridge, Mass and London: MIT Press.

Russett, R.and Starr, C. (1976) Experimental Animation: An Illustrated Anthology, New York: Van Nostrand.

Watson, P., (1997) "True Lye's: (Rem)Animating Film Studies" in Art and Animation: Art and Design Vol 12 No. 3/4 March-April 1997 pp. 46-49. 
Wells, P., (1998) Understanding Animation London and New York: Routledge

Further reading:

Kostelanetz, R., (2001) Dictionary of Avant-gardes 2nd Edition, New York and London: Routledge.

Leslie, E., (2002) Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-garde, London and New York: Verso.

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