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Famous Like Me > Director > L > Len Lye

Profile of Len Lye on Famous Like Me

Name: Len Lye  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 5th July 1901
Place of Birth: Christchurch, New Zealand
Profession: Director
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Len Lye, born Leonard Charles Huia Lye (July 5, 1901 - May 15, 1980), was a New Zealand sculptor, artist, writer and film-maker. As a young man he spent time on Samoa; in 1926 he moved to London, where he joined the Seven and Five Society, which grouped some of the leading abstract artists. He was in London to 1944.

He was an early pioneer in the production of many colour films during the 1930s. He used the Gasparcolor technique invented by Dr Bela Gaspar. Central to the process was a Beam splitter camera that divided the spectrum into separate components. Each component existed as a monchrome image. The three monchrome images where then re-combined to form a colour print. Lye utilised the process to combine existing black and white film footage and photostencils into brilliant colour imagery.

As a film maker Len Lye created Direct Films, films created without a camera. He used a array of techniques to do this. In Free Radicals he used black film stock and scratched designs into the emulsion. The result was a dancing pattern of flashing lines and marks, as dramatic as lightning in the night sky.

Lye continued to experiment with the possibilities of direct film-making to the end of his life. In various films he used a range of dyes, stencils, air-brushes, felt tip pens, stamps, combs and surgical instruments, to create images and textures on celluloid. In Colour Cry he employed the "photogram" method combined with various stencils and fabrics to create abstract patterns.

As a writer Len Lye produced a body of work exploring his theory of IHN (Individual Happyness Now). He also wrote a large number of letters and poems. He was a friend of Dylan Thomas, and Robert Graves (who - together with Laura Riding - published No Trouble, a book of Lye's prose writing, in 1930). The nzepc (New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre) website contains a selection of Lye's writings, which are just as surprising and experimental as his work in other media.

Lye was also an important kinetic sculptor. He saw film and kinetic sculpture as aspects of the same "art of motion", which he theorised in a highly original way in his essays (collected in the book "Figures of Motion"). Many of Lye's kinetic works can be found at the Govett brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, Taranaki including a 45-metre high Wind Wand near the sea.

Lye was a maverick, never fitting any of the usual art historical labels. Although he did not became famous in orthodox terms, his work was familiar to many film-makers and kinetic sculptors - he was something of an "artist's artist", and his innovations have had an international influence. He is also remembered for his colourful personality, amazing clothes, and highly unorthodox lecturing style (he taught at New York University for three years).

Art historian and friend of Lye, Roger Horrocks wrote an excellent biography titled Len Lye in 2001. There are also two very interesting documentaries about Lye - Flip and Two Twisters and Doodlin' . And the Centre Pompidou published Len Lye, a book of essays by an international range of art critics (edited by Jean-Michel Bouhours and Roger Horrocks) in 2000.


  • Particles in Space (1979)
  • Free Radicals (1958, revised 1979)
  • Tal Farlow (completed posthumously, 1980)
  • Rhythm (1957)
  • Colour Cry (1952)
  • Kill or Be Killed (1942)
  • When the Pie Was Opened (1941)
  • Musical Poster Number One (1940)
  • Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1940)
  • North or Northwest (1938)
  • Colour Flight (1937)
  • Full Fathom Five (1937)
  • Trade Tattoo (1937)
  • Birth of a Robot (1936)
  • Rainbow Dance (1936)
  • A Colour Box (1935)
  • Kaleidoscope (1935)
  • Tusalava (1929)


  • Len Lye: Figures of Motion. Selected Writings, edited by Wystan Curnow and Roger Horrocks, Oxford University Press/Auckland University Press, 1984. ISBN 0196479967
  • Len Lye, edited by Jean Michel Bouhours, Edition Centre Pompidou: Paris, 2000. ISBN 2844260349
  • Roger Horrocks: Len Lye: A Biography, Auckland Univ Press: Auckland, 2002. ISBN 1869402472
  • Len Lye: Happy Moments Text and Images By Len Lye, edited by Roger Horrocks, The Holloway Press: Auckland, 2002. ISBN 0958231338

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Len Lye