James Whitney

1921 - 1981 Artist

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James Whitney was born in Pasadena, California and lived all his life in the Los Angeles area. In the early 40s, while still in his teens, James began collaborating on abstract films with his older brother John (1917-95). Their series of Film Exercises, produced between 1943-44, are a remarkable achievement - visually based on modernist composition theory (like Schoenberg's a-tonal and serial music) with carefully varied permutation of forms manipulated with cut-out masks so that the image photographed is pure, direct light shaped, rather than the light reflected from drawings of objects in traditional animation. The eerie and sensuous glow of these forms is paralleled by a pioneer electronic music sound score composed by the brothers using an elaborate pendulum device they invented to write out sounds directly onto the film's soundtrack area, with precisely controlled calibrations. At that time, before the perfection of recording tape, these sounds - with exotic "pure" tone qualities, mathematically even chromatic glissandos and reverberating pulsations, were truly revolutionary and shocking. The brothers won a Grand Prize at the 1949 Brussels Experimental Film Competition for the Film Exercises. After the Film Exercises, John began to pursue technological, theoretical, mathematical, architectonic and musical ideas which eventually led him to his masterful pioneer work in Computer Graphics. Meanwhile, James became increasingly involved in contemplative, spiritual interests - Jungian psychology, alchemy, yoga, Tao, Krishnamurti and consciousness expansion - which became the subject matter of the four films on which he has worked for over 30 years. James shares this spiritual preoccupation, by the way, with Kupka, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Rothko and many other non-objective artists. [Source: William Moritz, excerpted from 1984 Toronto Film Festival catalogue, Iota Center Website]