Inside the Mind of Tim Burton

Diane Oh/New University

The Tim Burton exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has continued to attract visitors ever since its opening reception on May 29, 2011.  Until Oct. 31, 2011, this exclusive exhibition showcases the vast and innovative creativity of the one and only Tim Burton. Visitors are given the rare opportunity to delve into the whimsical imagination of this famous multimedia artist and to get to know a little more about him through his creations.

Upon my arrival, a line had already formed at the exhibition’s eye-catching entryway: the gaping mouth of a crazed black-and-white monster baring its sharp teeth and a red carpet that is supposed to be its tongue. Such an entryway augmented the crowd’s strong sense of curiosity and excitement as the line inched slowly into the exhibit.

After passing through the monster’s mouth, the first thing visitors flocked to was a wall covered in several of Tim Burton’s untitled watercolor and ink sketches from the 1980s to the early 2000s, with some featuring iconic characters from his films. In the middle of the room, a few 3-D clay sculptures of black alien-like creatures arch gracefully, as if to further draw visitors into the artistic realm of Tim Burton they had just entered.

Within a few steps, a blood-red painted room titled “Surviving Burbank 1958-1976” focuses on Burton’s early days as a growing artist in Burbank, Calif. Sketchbooks and doodle-infested class notes from his CalArts years during the late 1970s, various pieces from his job at Walt Disney Animation Studios and clips of American horror films from which he drew inspiration from all show the development of a brimming, young artist, foreshadowing an illustrious career.

After “Surviving Burbank,” Burton’s imagination seems only to grow even more productive, as more and more walls in the exhibit show off frames of his untitled black-and-white and colored sketches. I was slightly overwhelmed, but also amazed that every sketch I saw was just as original and charming as the next.

Burton’s “Creature Series” depict his signature quirky style, whereas his “Girl Series” has a more feminine touch. Other black-and-white drawings feature simple, ordinary scenes. However, he adds depth and perspective by drawing them from interesting angles, placing the viewer in the position of a spy or ominous silhouettes to give the drawing a haunted feel. His “Character Studies,” which messes with the proportions and forms of his subjects, reflects his love to smirk at society.

It appears that Burton used his younger years when living in suburbia as a source of inspiration. He has his own way of intertwining the conventional with the unconventional by his clever use of shape, color and placement that would make one stare at his pieces for an extra minute or two.

Proceeding Burton’s vast collection of personal sketches, more of his works related to the films he directed from the early 1980s to recent years comprise the remainder of the exhibit.

My favorite part of the exhibit is an enclosed, black-lighted space illuminated by the glow of the artworks inside. An eerie Burton-esque tune plays overhead and glowing monsters cover the pitch-black walls. A neon-colored carousel mobile spins endlessly in one corner of the room as if to hypnotize. Small-scale paintings of flowers or adorable creatures drawn with glowing acrylic paints on black velvet are nestled in little nooks, allowing one to be face-to-face with the paintings. Everything in here was alluring and electrifying, so to speak.

In the following room, wherein a few iconic props and costumes used in Burton’s films are displayed, a headless mannequin models the distinctive costume of Edward Scissorhands designed by longtime Burton collaborator Colleen Atwood.

The richly blue-violet room dedicated to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” would bring nostalgia to anyone who watched this film as a child. Some of my personal favorites are the roughly two dozen Jack Skellington heads, each one having a different facial expression, as well as the actual character puppets used in the stop-motion film. On one side of the room, a crowd gazed upward at a wall consisting of nothing but oversized Polaroid pictures of the film’s characters printed in vivid, saturated color.

The last room of the exhibit presents similar artistic media, including those from Burton’s most recent films: Atwood’s costumes for “Sleepy Hollow” loom overhead on walls or pedestals; silhouetted design studies of the “Corpse Bride” characters as well as the puppets of Victor and the Corpse Bride herself; Sweeney Todd’s murderous razors and their wooden case from the 2007 film, and 3-D maquettes from featurettes like “Frankenweenie.”

Even if you haven’t seen all of Burton’s films, each object still carries a presence that hints at the kind of world it originates from.
Animation clips, a 3-D diorama and illustrated pages from Burton’s 1997 publication “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories” add a refreshing, storybook-like element to the final section of the exhibit, and really highlighted the comical quality that can always be found in his work.

Framed on the walls were the humorous poems handwritten and illustrated by Burton about peculiar but pitiful child characters with names like Stain Boy, Voodoo Girl or Penguin Boy, who are all misunderstood and wish to find acceptance in their environments (a favorite motif for Burton, quite evidently).

Last but not least, the journey through the exhibit concludes with three giant, inflatable, multi-armed creatures that one could assume are waving goodbye. Oh, and then there is the inevitable gift shop to browse through.

The Tim Burton exhibition at LACMA is a welcoming chance to discover and experience a part of an eclectic, colorful world, where the division between reality and fantasy is blurred, and where all things considered appalling become appealing – and inspiring. Whether or not you are a Tim Burton fan, this exhibition is definitely worth looking into.