Unity Books was excited to host a lunchtime event on the 24th of June to celebrate the launch of the very special book, Zizz! The Life & Art of Len Lye: In His Own Words by Len Lye and Roger Horrocks. The publishing of a new book on Lye is always a great event and combined with the anticipation of the new Len Lye Centre, which will open in New Plymouth in late July, there was a great feeling of interest and celebration in such an energetic and artistically innovative New Zealander.
Mary Varnham of Awa Press opened the event by speaking about Zizz! as a ‘constructed memoir’, that is, a record of Lye’s life and thoughts pieced together from his own scattered personal writings and supplemented by letters, interviews and photographs taken over the years by Lye’s girlfriends. Mary reminded us of Roger Horrocks’ relationship with Lye during 1979 as his assistant in New York City and of Roger’s ongoing relationship with Lye’s very large and varied body of work.
As editor and literary engineer behind Zizz! Roger Horrocks spoke next, entertaining listeners with a wealth of details about Lye’s life which he describes as ‘a clutch of amazing stories’. Lye has a strong connection with Wellington, keeping notes of his thoughts and ideas while he lived here in his teenage years. As a paperboy, Lye observed from a Wellington hilltop the wind blowing the clouds across the sky and noted that ‘the future of art will be movement’. This indeed was a truth for Lye’s future cinematic and kinetic works. A young school leaver, not by choice, Lye educated himself through the Wellington Public Library and, as Roger said, was immediately adopted by the avant-garde scene in New Zealand.
In his life abroad Lye moved in both artistic and literary circles. A close friend of Robert Graves and Dylan Thomas, it was Graves who first brought Lye around to appreciate and write poetry himself. Over the 1940s and 1950s Lye exhibited with and knew major artists including Picasso and Pollock. Not that Lye was beholden to celebrity – as his writings reveal he had no time for pretension. Roger describes Lye as down to earth, and that, in his writing, Lye never lost the values or style of the ‘tough little Wellington street kid’.
Roger describes Zizz! as ‘capsule Len’, the essence of Lye as an artist and a person pared back from his sprawling, uncollected notes to a ‘punchy’ 200 pages. Roger compares the task of compiling the book to cutting a documentary film together. After recounting excellent tales of Lye’s lifestyle, friendships and artistic vision, Roger called for questions from the floor, daring the audience to ask their toughest questions on Lye, which Roger did answer in fascinating and lively detail.
Paul Brobbel, curator at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, was also present and closed this very enjoyable event by detailing the spaces that make up the new Len Lye Centre. These include galleries dedicated to Lye’s work, a new cinema and, a first for the display of Lye’s kinetic sculptures, a large works gallery dedicated to the construction and display of Lye’s sculptures at the sizes they were initially conceived, which are very big indeed. There is much for all of us to look forward both in Lye’s words and art.
Zizz! The Life & Art of Len Lye, In His Own Words (Awa Press) is $30 and available in store now or from our online shop HERE.
Review by Tamsin Grigg, photography by Vanessa Williams.