Len Lye and the Child-like and Primitive in Art: The London Years - a lecture by Anne Kirker

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Lecture by Anne Kirker for the Len Lye Symposium, Sept 10 2011, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

Abstract: Between 1926 and 1944, Len Lye was based in London. This was the time he made his debut as a professional artist, becoming linked with diverse and forward-looking talents attached to the Seven and Five Society, which he joined in 1928. This youthful group included Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood and Cedric Morris, artists who found the imagery of children and of untutored 'outsiders' like Alfred Wallis, a refreshing alternative to The London Group under the sway of Roger Fry. There was also interest in tribal art as borne out in the Society by Henry Moore's carvings and by Lye's imagery based on firsthand experience of Samoa and of Polynesian carving and tapa cloth. In this context, Lye exhibited his Unit carving and Construction and Eve sculptures, colourful batiks and paintings with titles like Earth cools, plants arrive and fire-devil departs and First people. There were also his biomorphic designs for books put out by the Seizen Press in Majorca which demonstrated his growing affinity with Surrealism. In 1931, Lye exhibited stills of his film Tusalava, proof of his entry into avant-garde filmmaking. This overview of the idiosyncratic creative output of Len Lye in these early years of his career is interwoven with that of the artist's fellow Seven and Five exhibitors and ends with his participation in the International Surrealism exhibition of 1936.

Dr. Anne Kirker is an independent art consultant, curator and writer. She was Senior Curator (Special Projects) at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia from 2001 until 2006 before which she held the position of Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs (1988 – 2001). Previously Anne held similar curatorial positions in leading public galleries in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand. She has a Dip.F.A. (Hons) from the University of Auckland and an M.A. (in art history) from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. In 2009 she was awarded her Ph.D by Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. In 2010 she was appointed an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane. She was Judge of the Alice Prize 2004 and the Dobell Drawing Prize 2008. A member of Museums Australia Anne is also a member of AICA, the international art critic’s organisation. She has written several books and published widely in Australian and New Zealand art journals. Further details are outlined on www.annekirker.com.au