Len Lye, born Leonard Charles Huia Lye (5 July 1901, Christchurch, New Zealand - 15 May 1980, Warwick, Rhode Island), was a New Zealand-born artist known primarily for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture. His films are held in archives such as the New Zealand Film Archive, British Film Institute, Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Pacific Film Archive at University of California, Berkeley. Lye's sculptures are found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Berkeley Art Museum. However, the bulk of his work returned to New Zealand after his death, where it is housed at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth.
As a student Lye became convinced that motion could be part of the language of art, leading him to early (and now lost) experiments with kinetic sculpture, as well as a desire to make film. Lye was also one of the first Pākehā artists to appreciate the art of Māori, Australian Aboriginal, Pacific Island and African cultures, and this had great influence on his work. In the early 1920s Lye travelled widely in the South Pacific. He spent extended periods in Australia and Samoa, where he was expelled by the New Zealand colonial administration for living within an indigenous community.
Working his way as a coal trimmer aboard a steam ship, Lye moved to London in 1926. There he joined the Seven and Five Society, exhibited in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition and began to make experimental films. Following his first animated film Tusalava, Lye began to make films in association with the British General Post Office. His 1935 film A Colour Box, an advertisement for "cheaper parcel post", was the first direct film screened to a general audience. It was made by painting vibrant abstract patterns on the film itself, synchronizing them to a popular dance tune by Don Baretto and His Cuban Orchestra. A panel of animation experts convened in 2005 by the Annecy film festival put this film among the top ten most significant works in the history of animation (his later film Free Radicals was also in the top 50).
In Free Radicals he used black film stock and scratched designs into the emulsion. The result was a dancing pattern of flashing lines and marks, as dramatic as lightning in the night sky.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Len_Lye