Zizz! The Life and Art of Len Lye In His Own Words

Len Lye with Roger Horrocks
AWA Press, 2015, 208 pp.

Following on from his 1984 compilation (edited with Wynston Curnow), Figures of Motion: Len Lye, Selected Writings, Roger Horrocks has distilled the essence of Len Lye in this gem of a publication that cuts to the chase as the essential biography, composed from selected writings, anecdotes, art illustrations and historiography. Released to coincide with the opening of the Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, this "little book" beautifully packages the heart of the art and the life of this maverick artist as adventurer.

A painter, poet, experimental filmmaker and sculptor, who recalls the sensory exercises of his childhood as “Colour days, weight days, sound days, motion days”, Lye's art is the perfect antidote to the pictorial or documentary approach to the landscape that has so dominated the visual arts in Australia and New Zealand. The life of the artist as generative, original and filled with groundbreaking intention and a discovery mode fills these pages.

Lye’s respect and early engagement with Pacific and Indigenous cultures that led to his year-long sojourn with a Samoan community in 1924 (before being thrown out of “paradise” by the government administrator and bargaining a trip to Australia as a consolation) is just one of the many episodes in this truly remarkable journey from the Antipodes to wartime England and on to New York in the 1960s, Lye’s eventual long-term domicile.

Celebrating a dynamic approach to modernism that is freethinking, freewheeling and ultimately concerned with human happiness, his engagement with ancient forms, modern music and the life force of energies (the “Zizz” of the title), made manifest in his direct-painted celluloid films, such as Colour Cry (1953) and Free Radicals (1958), ambitions to create large-scale interactive sculptural and kinetic works like the Wind Wand (1960) and his daily doodlings in graphic media, are here beautifully placed in context with the bigger picture of Lye’s life.

Eve Sullivan is the Executive Editor of Artlink.