• Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New Zealand Art

In Motion: Len Lye
June 3, 2014
By , Managing Editor & Writer

The artist: Picasso doodled. So did Da Vinci. And New Zealand artist Len Lye was also a proponent – his early doodles sparked a lifelong quest to explore motion and kinetic energy via art. Even his choice of artistic mediums reflected a kinetic energy: He flitted between drawings, animation, sculpture, painting, puppetry, poetry, song and film. In fact, Lye himself was an artistic medium. As The Guardian wrote, Lye’s art reflected the man: He was “a great dancer, sprightly poet, free spirit.” Lye remained largely an artist's artist during his career – revered within the experimental art community, but often unknown beyond it. That has been changing: Since his death in 1980, and especially in the last decade, Lye has achieved an almost James Dean-like post-mortum mythology. His progressive artistic approach has seeped into all corners of the art world, and his works are part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. In many ways, Lye predicted this, saying, “I’m an artist for the 21st century.”

The shows: Len Lye’s art is going through a revival, with a variety of new shows, including: Motion Sketch (through June 8), Drawing Center, SoHo, New York City; Art of its Own Making (through Aug. 28), Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis, Missouri; Wunderruma (through Sept. 28), The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington, New Zealand; and the Len Lye Centre, due to open in 2015 by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

The art: “I move, there­fore I am” is how Lye may have reframed Descartes’ dictum, says Roger Horrocks, the artist’s historian and biographer. This is evident throughout Motion Sketch at SoHo’s historic Drawing Center, which is exhibiting a wide range of Lye’s paintings, drawings and photograms, many of which are being shown for the first time in the U.S. Also on view are Lye’s landmark films, including Free Radicals (1957/1979). Lye’s works reflect his nomadic life: Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1901, he lived in Australia, on a remote Samoan island (which heavily influenced his art) and then traveled as a stoway to London, before eventually alighting on the shores of New York. Along the way, he ran in global artistic circles – he became pals with Dylan Thomas, and in 1938, Time named him the “English Walt Disney” (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Lye was also a prolific writer, exploring philosophical themes like this joyous directive: IHN (Individual Happiness Now). But though Lye traveled the world, in the end he came home: Upon his death, he bequeathed his art to the people of New Zealand.

(All images courtesy of the artist and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand)