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Centenary Celebrations For NZ Artist Len Lye

Biography launch and exhibition kick off centenary celebrations for NZ artist Len Lye


Biography launch and exhibition kick off centenary celebrations for NZ artist Len Lye

Internationally famous experimental artist Len Lye (1901–1980) began life as a largely self-educated, working class, Kiwi kid. He was born in Christchurch in July 1901, brought up for many years in Wellington, and has lasting links with New Plymouth and Auckland.

On 24 May 2001, Jonathan Dennis will launch the first biography of Lye at an event in Wellington hosted by the NZ Film Commission and the NZ Film Archive.

Len Lye: A Biography has been written by former Lye assistant and published by Auckland University Press.

At the time, the NZ Film Archive will open an exhibition of Lye’s film and film-making tools and materials, Colour Box, kicking off several months of events celebrating the centenary of Lye’s birth.

On 29 May Dr Rodney Wilson will launch the new biography for Auckland audiences at a function at Old Government House, The University of Auckland. That event will include a rare showing of Shirley Horrocks’s Lye documentary Flip and Two Twisters.

The biography

Len Lye: A Biography is the first full biography of Len Lye (1901–1980), a remarkable New Zealander and a gifted innovator in many areas of the arts – film, painting, sculpture, photography, print-making and writing. Not only his constant flow of new ideas but his exuberance, his unique taste in clothes, his quirky turn of phrase, and his free-wheeling personal life made him a legendary figure - a “crazy, excited and exciting guy” (as a fellow artist once described him).

The eventful life of this largely self-educated young man from the working class took him to bohemian circles of Sydney and then to Samoa where he clashed with the colonial administration for identifying too closely with the Samoans. He worked his way by sea to London where leading artists and writers were fascinated by Lye, a wild man from the colonies who was creating avant-garde paintings and films. His films for well-known producer John Grierson won him international awards. Inventing ways to make films without a camera he became one of the pioneers of the genre later known as the “music video”. He worked with many famous creative people (including Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, Alfred Hitchcock, and the Surrealists). He subsequently moved to New York’s Greenwich Village and became a leading figure in the “kinetic art” movement of the 1950s and 1960s. With his belief in sexual freedom, his scorn for authority and his life-time commitment to experiment, he never slowed down. Lye was – in the words of poet Alistair Reid – “the least boring person who ever lived”. Even after his death he continues to be a controversial figure as his plans for giant moving sculptures are at last being realised in New Zealand.

This fascinating biography is the result of over 20 years of research by Roger Horrocks, who once worked as Lye’s assistant. Written in a clear, accessible style it will appeal not only to those interested in the arts but to any general reader interested in the life story of a unique personality. Published on the centenary of Lye’s birth, and richly illustrated, this first biography represents the rediscovery of a great New Zealander and an important international artist.

The biographer

Roger Horrocks is the Head of the Department of for Film, Television and Media Studies at the University of Auckland. He and has been very actively involved in New Zealand’s growing film and television industries, serving on New Zealand on Air and other advisory and funding agencies. He is a member of the Len Lye Foundation.

The Len Lye centenary event calendar at present includes: Wellington

- Launch of Len Lye: A Biography (24 May)

- Opening of Lye film exhibition Colour Box (24 May)

- Unveiling of “All Souls Carnival” curated for the Lye exhibition at the Pompidou, Paris (24 May)

- Len Lye seminar (date tba; Roger Horrocks to appear)


- Auckland biography launch (29 May)

- Len Lye Symposium (30 June–1 July; organised by Roger Horrocks and sponsored by the University of Auckland)


- Art and Engineering seminar at the University of Canterbury (1 June)

- Illustrated talk by Roger Horrocks, “Books & Beyond” festival, & book signing (1 June)

- Unveiling of a plaque in Christchurch (date tba)

New Plymouth

- Lye exhibition The Long Dream of Waking Govett Brewster Gallery (30 June–19 August); “the most complete exhibition of Lye’s work ever held in New Zealand”

- Len Lye’s 100th birthday party with jazz band, MC Jonathan Dennis (5 July)

- Curators of The Long Dream of Waking discuss the exhibition that marks the centenary of Len Lye’s birth (8 July)

- Len Lye related film screenings (5 July; 12 August)

- Poet Laureate Elizabeth Smither reads the work of Lye’s writing collaborator, the influential modernist Laura Riding Jackson (22 July)

- Monica Brewster Club seminar (31 July)

- Lye with jazz afternoon at the Govett-Brewster gallery (5 August)


- A CD of recordings of Len Lye’s sculpture, from Auckland’s Atoll Ltd

- A number of Len Lye web pages are planned, see, eg,


- A travelling exhibition will open at the Art Gallery of NSW in December 2001 and will tour to Melbourne and Brisbane

Len Lye: A Biography

Roger Horrocks 24 May 2001 Paperback, illustrations, $49.95



- Biographer Roger Horrocks is based in Auckland and is available for interview

- Other members of the Len Lye Foundation may be available for interview upon request

- Footage of both Lye’s films and material featuring Lye is available through the NZ Film Archive and through Roger Horrocks

- Photographs of Lye and of his work are available to illustrate written or television broadcast pieces about Len Lye

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  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland