5 rooms in Spotlights
Explore Len Lye's open and imaginative approach to experimental film-making
In the late 1920s and 1930s, New Zealand artist Len Lye (1901–80) was at the forefront of experimental film-making in London. He carved sculptures from stone but also used cardboard or tin. As well as making paintings with oils, he used the batik technique of wax-resist dyeing. He wrote poetry and designed books.
Lye was best known for the abstract animated sequences that sometimes appeared in his films. Rather than use a camera, he would paint and scratch directly onto the film. Lye felt that the resulting animations conveyed a ‘body energy’, underlined by their jazz soundtracks.
These experimental films were produced as adverts for Post Office products, cigarettes, Imperial Airways, Shell Oil and the Ministry of Information. Shown in cinemas across the country, Lye’s films were seen by larger audiences than any other experimental art of the period. Under the guise of advertising, they introduced the general public to artistic movements such as abstraction and surrealism.