Widely celebrated for his films on marine life, French photographer and filmmaker Jean Painlevé (1902–1989) is a unique figure in the twentieth century arts. This is the first UK solo exhibition of his work. His moving imagery of marine life, in particular, commanded the respect of many renowned avant-garde artists working in 1920s Paris (Luis Buñuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Man Ray and Alexander Calder), at the beginning of a life-long career that almost spanned the twentieth century. This exhibition presents a number of seminal films alongside a selection of photographs and jewellery, exemplifying Painlevé’s passion for making science accessible.
The selection of works reflect Painlevé’s constant explorations of new ways to engage with the audience, from his early portraits and close-ups of marine animals, his iconic film The Seahorse to later works such as the 1978 Phase Transition in Liquid Crystals. L’Hippocampe (The Seahorse), was Painlevé’s first and only film using underwater footage shot with a rudimentary waterproof case for his camera. Later this sea creature was used as a stylised motif for a fashion brand offering a range of bracelets, necklaces, printed fabrics and silk scarves associated with the film. A selection of the original 1936 jewellery is displayed in a room of the exhibition entirely wallpapered with the patterns of one of the seahorse fabrics.
Painlevé also had a strong interest and engagement with new developments in music. He commissioned Pierre Jansen to produce a score for the 1978 film Acera or The Witches’ Dance which will be performed live by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group during the screening of the film as part of the Flatpack Film Festival.
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