Inside the mind of Tim Burton
New exhibition explores the goth-inspired director’s creative process from earliest childhood to his recent films.
If a visit inside the mind of an enigmatic director were written as a screenplay, it might begin like this:Skip to next paragraph
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INTERIOR: MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK CITY – DAY
The VIEWER sees a spiral painted on the floor outside an art gallery, a symbol of unbalanced vertigo. She walks on a red-carpet “tongue” through a portal shaped like a toothy monster’s head. Six video monitors line a black-and-white striped corridor showing the misadventures of a hapless antisuperhero named Stainboy. LAUGHTER from other MUSEUM-GOERS. The viewer is plunged into a spooky room lit by black light, where an iridescent carousel revolves above a many-tentacled, phosphorescent sea creature.
“Welcome to the weird, wacky, wonderful world of Tim Burton’s imagination!”
Until April 26, 2010, the Museum of Modern Art hosts “Tim Burton,” an exhibition of 500 drawings, cartoons, paintings, sketches, photographs, and moving-image works by the director of hit films like “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “Batman.” The display of original work is accompanied by screenings of his 14 feature films and 200 objects like props, “sculps,” and costumes fabricated for the films. Museum director Glenn Lowry terms it “the largest, most comprehensive monographic show to date devoted to a single filmmaker.” Mr. Lowry praises Burton for allowing curators access to his personal archive, which seems to include every doodle he ever scribbled from childhood ’til now.
“It’s rare an artist lets you inside their mind,” Lowry adds, providing “a glimpse of how they think and feel,” as well as “the issues that shape their work.” He saluted the director, saying, “Tim, you explore deep and dark fears we all share but in a way that brings out the humor and humanity in all of us.”
Many themes and motifs in the work stem from a painful childhood. Burton, born in Burbank, Calif., in 1958, felt alienated from his suburban environment, which he’s described as colorless and conformist. Estranged from his parents, the future goth-inspired director enjoyed playing in a local cemetery (no surprise there). A classic geek, he cloistered himself in his room, drawing fantastic creatures, seeking release and relief in his imagination. What he terms “the lurid beauty” of monster movies like “Godzilla” and horror films like “Nosferatu” attracted him. He identified with their misfit, misunderstood characters.
Burton spent two years at art school and four miserable years as an apprentice animator at Walt Disney Studios, where he unlearned more than learned the craft. Assigned to draw endearing foxes for the 1981 animated feature “The Fox and the Hound,” Burton’s beasts were the antithesis of cute. His foxes looked rabid or were smashed like roadkill – The Magic Kingdom as The Macabre Kingdom.
The exhibition makes clear how Burton’s early experiences shaped – and still inform – his art and filmmaking. The show is divided into three sections: Surviving Burbank (juvenilia like school papers, drawings, and lists of favorite movies), Beautifying Burbank (cartoons he drew as an art student and animator), and Beyond Burbank (concept drawings and sketches of characters in his films).
Common threads emerge in both drawings and films: monstrous but childlike creatures that elicit sympathy through their vulnerability, inventive costume, and set designs bursting with panache, and a distinctive mix of horror and humor.