Works on Paper

Lye was a prolific artist on paper, and the Len Lye Collection includes some 1400 works of that kind.  His early portraits and figure studies tend to be descriptive and realistic, influenced by the conventional art teaching of the time.  But from his early days he also kept sketchbooks that include detailed studies of Māori and other forms of indigenous art. 

Departing from figurative drawing, he developed a style he called “doodling,” more in tune with his interest in motion and energy, including his own hand movements. He experimented with drawing in a trance-like manner, which he saw as a way of tapping “the old brain.”

Lye also left detailed drawings of his kinetic sculptures so they could be built after his death.  Some are visionary architectural drawings seeking to conjure up the large-scale works and sites he hoped eventually to be realized.

Lye drew on any materials at hand – the backs of envelopes, packets, newspapers, graph paper, etc. He used pencils and pens, and even direct light as we see from his photograms. His drawing was closely related to his film work which involved the use of brushes, sprays, and a variety of scribers to draw lines and patterns on celluloid.   

Photo Gallery: Works on Paper

An early portrait
Old Jim
A page from Lyes sketchbook (ca. 1924)
Grub drawing for <em>Tusalava</em> ca.1929
Doodle from 1936
Pond Doodle
Photogram doodle
<em>Water Whirler</em> sketch on postage stamps
<em>Wind Wand</em>, ca.1963
<em>Bell Wand</em> modes
<em>Time Dance</em> 1964