Lye’s first direct film, which combines popular Cuban dance music with hand-painted abstract designs, amazed cinema audiences. Color was still a novelty, and Lye’s direct painting on celluloid creates exceptionally vibrant effects. The film won several major awards, though some festivals had to invent a special category for it, and in Venice, the Fascists disrupted screenings because they saw the film as ‘degenerate’ modern art. A Colour Box was funded and distributed by John Grierson’s GPO Film Unit on the condition that Lye include postal messages at the end. —Harvard Film Archive
Len Lye had this revelation, while still a young man. It was to endure as the central theme of his life and art for the next sixty years generating an extraordinary body of works including films, paintings, drawings, writings and sculpture.
He was drawn to modern art by its enthusiasm for creating “new forms” – in Lye’s terms, finding new imagery to “carry” the kinetic feelings that could be discovered in the body. Lye’s sense of movement was always kinesthetic and physical, not purely a matter of visual patterns.
Lye is a clear example of that very rare type of artist who is equally at home in different media. As a young man he was one of the first sculptors in the world to work with movement; and the sculpture he made during the 1960s and 70s (in the collection of the Whitney Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Albright-Knox Gallery and other major museums) is among the best kinetic art of any period. He was also a highly original painter and writer.
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For me, the masterpiece in this technique/genre is McLaren's Begone Dull Care. But one has to pay homage to the pioneering originality of this work. Note to myself: what about it (the editing? the mechanical rhythm? the lack of variation?) makes this film seem somewhat metronomic & affectless (despite the music) and McLaren's wondrously joyous??