As an Artist in England

From 1926 to 1944 he was based in London. He made paintings and batiks, and became a member of the 7&5 Society, a leading group of avant-garde artists including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Frances Hodgkins. Lye also became a member of the Surrealist group and was included in the famous International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936.

What made him famous, however, were his animated films. Tusalava (1929) had a unique style influenced both by modernism and by Aboriginal art. Then Lye pioneered a new method of "direct film-making" (creating films without a camera), and became a leading experimenter in the new medium of colour film. His first direct film, A Colour Box (1935), won awards and had screenings all over the world. With its soundtrack of Cuban dance music, it was both a great experimental film and a forerunner of what are today called “music videos”.

Fellow film-maker Norman McLaren was “electrified and ecstatic” when he saw A Colour Box for the first time. He wrote: “Apart from the sheer exhilaration of the film, what intrigued me was that it was a kinetic abstraction of the spirit of the music, and that it was painted directly onto the film. On both these counts it was for me like a dream come true…. Len Lye had shown the way, and shown it in a masterly and brilliant fashion.”

Photo Gallery: As an Artist in England

A batik shawl Lye made for Laura Riding, 1928
Lye with his first wife Jane, London
Lye (seated on right with hat) at a 1929 film-making workshop in London
<em>A Colour Box</em>, 1935
Working on film <em>Colour Flight</em>, 1938
Lye with Robert Graves in Deya, 1968