Monday, 5 April 2010

Tim Pencilhands

By Beatrice Jeschek

Tim Burton draws before he makes movies. Beatrice Jeschek discovers his grotesque fantasy art in the Museum of Modern Arts in NYC.

When you see surreal figures angrily turn their blood-red heads, swollen like a heart, in front of a camera, it is Tim Burton at work for his new 3D-interpretation of “Alice in Wonderland”. For nearly three decades the famous director have had us enjoy rainbow colours exploding on his screen, along the way telling pretty odd fairy tales for grown-ups. To his long list of arts belongs “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) or “Big Fish” (2003).

And the list is set to grow like the magical beard of a wise man from the mountains, with yet another fairy tale adaption of “Sleeping Beauty” (in dark style manner called “Maleficent” - a production planned for 2013 with Linda Woolverton again as the writer and Angelina Jolie in talks to play the villain). His movies might be controversial, as is his maniac lust to give Disney classics a dark scent. Nevertheless, Burton is art.

“We needed to do Tim Burton”, concluded Ron Magliozzi, the Assistant Curator of the Museum of Modern Art last summer in New York City during a press conference. “A major exhibition is overdue”, Magliozzi said. Burton at the MoMA would be lining up with incredibly talented visualists like Andy Warhol and D.W. Griffith.

"There is no other living filmmaker whose full body of work has been so well hidden from public view" - Ron Magliozzi, Assistant Curator, MoMA

Under his fabulous mountain of movies are countless pieces of fantasy buried that are brought into daylight in this major exhibition in New York, running until the end of this month. Mr. Magliozzi stated: “There is no other living filmmaker possessing Tim Burton’s level of accomplishment and reputation whose full body of work has been so well hidden from public view. Seeing so much that was previously inaccessible in a museum context should serve to fuel renewed appreciation and fresh appraisal of this much-admired artist.”

Some of his work would be hard to imagine on a Disney channel, commented Burton at the press conference to introduce the gallery, and grinned like his own vision of the Cheshire Cat. Not everyone knows it, but Burton actually worked for five years back in the 80s as an animator for the Disney studios. When he speaks about it, he seems grateful. But it also seems that he was unable to fully load his extraordinary capacities.

However, in his recent movie productions he offers Disney a bit of his inspiration back. Skinny arms like pencils, a grim whitish face with a hairy explosion carrying a small crown – this was Burton’s vision of the Red Queen before he gave “Alice in Wonderland” an edgy appearance on 3D screens. Drawings like these trace the current of his visual imagination back to his childhood.

Burton calmly put a wooly curl out of his face when Glenn Lowry, the director of MoMA, called his cinematic handwriting “surreal pop culture” in the purest form. Creatures coming to live from the tip of his pencil are so impressive and otherworldly that they visit us during the night in our dreams and don’t let go again, Lowry said.

"I didn't grow up in a real museum culture. I think the Hollywood Wax Museum was my first museum."

The MoMA visitors in New York can get lost in 700 examples of rarely or never-before-seen paintings, storyboards, moving-image works, puppets, costumes, and cinematic ephemera. The exhibition is a ground-deep bow in front of a moody visionary in bright colours, who loves to sink into his self-drawn world. He surrounds himself with his visions for constant inspiration, at home and in his studio in London he said in the following face-to-face interviewing session. "I didn't grow up in a real museum culture" Burton confessed. "I think the Hollywood Wax Museum was my first museum."

Some extroverted reporter in the background of the cozy MoMA cinema asked with a cheeky smile, hidden behind the microphone: “So, Mr. Burton, what would your mum think about the fact that you are being compared to Warhol?” Burton pretended to think about it, and responded with an even bigger smile: “She would ask: ‘Who is Warhol?’”

Major Retrospective on the Artistry of Filmmaker Tim Burton
Exhibiton Dates: 22.11. 2009 – 26.04. 2010.
MoMA, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019

Video: Tim Burton at MoMA, NYC.

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