Apr 1, 2010

The Strange dreams of Harry Smith - Yael Silverman

When I was growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey I met a boy named Harry Smith. He was in my chorus class, and cried often because he was quite a terrible singer. He cried about almost everything actually. He would bawl if there was too much peanut butter in his sandwich, or if there was not enough of it. What would especially set him off is if people teased him and called him cry baby, then you would really see the water works.

Let's just say the animator Harry Smith redefined my impression of Harry Smiths everywhere.

Harry Everett Smith was born in late may , 1923. He was nothing short of a renaissance man, dabbling in anthropology, country music, mysticism, film making, and of course, animating. We witnessed a cutout process, but this we certainly not his exclusive media ( though it was my favorite!) Harry's animations often branched off into far more abstract concepts, where no image or place is recognizable at all. His early abstractions were simply encompassing the sensations of texture, color, and movement.

Harry Smith and Norman Mclaren were honestly the first animators to open my eyes to the power of abstraction. Like the average dimwit I found abstraction to be pointless and boring. Once I began to actually create animation and study it; I realized just how intense and important process was. My overly polished character drawings came out looking stiff and awkward, and honestly, sometimes animation is just a lot more fluid when you are following the smooth sweep of an abstract green arch than a character who's mouth doesn't sync with sound for the life of them. Character animation has to CONVINCE the audience that the walking, talking, and anatomy is "correct." The charm of abstraction is the artistic process, visual stimuli, and meaning that each individual can take away from witnessing such work. Harry Smith sometimes provides us with a little more than other surrealists and abstract animators; he does seem to enjoy using people and familiar objects. The distinct differentiation is that the people are not particular CHARACTERS playing a part in a NARRATIVE, they are more in line with other representational objects, carrying out whatever strange task that we could not imagine being assigned to them. This puts them in a position we may find humorous, confusing, but over all entertaining and thought provoking. Thank you Harry, for showing me that abstract animation is a vast and beautiful field that flirts with the eye and leaves room for my imagination to wander.

Back to facts, Harry smith seemed to have a fondness for labeling his works by number. He compiled about 20 animations over the course of 30 years. Only a few were collage , many were more focused on brush stroke and color. It is suggested that his work was affected by his bohemian lifestyle and recreational drug use. Though many may be opposed to this type of lifestyle, it was a very current reflection of artistic society in the era in which he was working. This mindset stemmed from a community of experimentalists, which he seemed very much a part of.

Now for the show!

Open your imagination and let some Harry soak in!

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