The first time I went to the Tim Burton show at the Museum of Modern Art, I took my daughter.
The second time, she took me.
That's as it should be. Kids are naturally outsiders, and outsiders are the main characters --- and heroes --- both in Tim Burton's movies and in his drawings. What is miraculous about his work is that it exists at all as a mass-market phenomenon; most outsiders became slackers, burnouts, druggies or druggies. Losers, all. Not Burton. As Johnny Depp, his favorite actor, has said, "I have never seen someone so obviously out of place fit right in."
[Burton fits right in so well that, if you just show up at MOMA, you probably won't get to see his exhibition. Museum members can waltz in at any time. Non-members must buy tickets in advance. The exhibition closes on April 26, 2010.]
If you've enjoyed Burton's movies, you'll be delighted by the MOMA exhibition, which is vast and comprehensive. Burton started drawing at an early age --- in Burbank, where he grew up, it was his only outlet. (Well, there was the time he threw some clothes into a swimming pool just treated with chemicals and told friends someone had fallen in and..... dissolved,) He starts his movies by drawing his characters. And, as his wife, the actress Helena Bonham Carter says, "Take away his pen and he'd go insane...Tim's is, literally, a life in pictures."
There is a catalog of the MOMA exhibition. And a small book about Burton's art. Now, thanks to the MOMA exhibit, there is a big one. Two, actually. The deluxe edition of 'The Art of Tim Burton' is a monster: 437 pages, most filled with drawings. There are lots of foldouts and the occasional square of tissue paper, a mark of the Serious Art Book. It's $138.99 at Amazon.com (the publisher is selling it at $299), and it has the feel of an instant collectible --- in years to come, we'll see copies on ebay for much more.
There's a "standard" edition of the book, sold only by the publisher, and at $69.99, I guess we should consider it a bargain. It has all the same art and all the same short memory pieces by actors and artists who have worked with Burton: Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Danny Devito, Christopher Lee, Paul Reubens, Winona Ryder and more.
The story told in this book is a simple one. An alien child. A helpful teacher. A highly original student film. An apprenticeship at Disney. And then an unbroken series of successful films.
As they do in his films, kids love the skewed humor of his drawings.
"A clown killed a boy and ate him up" --- that drawing shows a chubby clown munching on a human arm.
A couple that likes to hold hands --- they're holding severed hands, not each other's.
A blind man with permanent seeing eye dogs --- in his eye sockets.
And our daughter's favorite, a drawing captioned "never shoot a constipated poodle" --- you can imagine the dominant color.
You can see bits and pieces of other artists in his work, but what you mostly get from Tim Burton's art --- from the very beginning --- is his skill in delivering a sharply-drawn figure with just a few lines. His work is thus immediately recognizable. And if you happen to like it, it's immensely reassuring --- this freak didn't beat the squares at their own game, he invented a new game.
And got away with it.
[cross-posted from HeadButler.com]