Film pioneer’s five decades on screen celebrated in home city exhibition

A celebration of one of the most innovative figures of British artist film – Malcolm Le Grice – is being staged across two venues in his home city of Plymouth.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, he progressed from studying to become a painter to pioneering the British Expanded Cinema movement and creating the UK’s first computer art films.

Now a selection of his iconic works is to go on show during a dual site exhibition in the Peninsula Arts Gallery at the University of Plymouth, and Plymouth Arts Centre.

Running from Friday 20 January to Saturday 18 March, the exhibition forms part of Peninsula Arts’ Voices season and is being delivered in partnership with the Plymouth History Centre and Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

Malcolm Le Grice was born in Plymouth in 1940, and studied in the city before going on to the Slade School of Fine Art. But by the mid-1960s, he had begun making film, video and computer works and became the driving force in expanding the London Filmmakers Co-op, through the creation of a filmmaker workshop, which has had a profound impact on British visual culture since the late 1960s.

He has shown in major international exhibitions including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louvre Museum and Tate Modern. And his films and videos are held in collections at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Royal Belgian Film Archive, the National Film Library of Australia, the German Cinematheque Archive and the Archives du Film Experimental D'Avignon.

Speaking ahead of the exhibition celebrating his innovative and ground-breaking work, Le Grice said:

“I have shown my work in galleries across the world and I really don’t see this as being any different – I still consider it an international exhibition. I guess it is somewhat curious to see 50 years of your work on the same walls, but there are pieces here from every stage of my career from which I still draw a great deal of satisfaction. I hope audiences will be able to draw a similar sense of enjoyment – and, in some cases, amusement – from works which showcase a very full range of my output from film, video, and abstract paintings to performance, drawings and watercolours.”

The exhibition will be complimented by a series of associated talks and film screenings, including an event with Malcolm Le Grice and Keith Rowe in the Peninsula Arts Gallery on Wednesday 22 February. This will include a performance of his work After Leonardo, which has developed continuously since first being shown in 1971. Le Grice and Rowe first worked together as students when they were members of a jazz band, regularly performing at Plymouth Arts Centre from 1959-61.

There will also be talks about his work and its impact on the British film industry from experts including Stacey Anderson, Executive Archive Director of the South West Film and Television Archive; Dr Kayla Parker, Lecturer in Media Arts at the University of Plymouth; and Mark Webber, an independent curator of artists’ film and video whose programmes have been presented at museums and festivals internationally.

Le Grice was also asked to select works from conventional cinema to complement the exhibition, and they will be shown while his pieces are on show. They include MGM's version of Cole Porter’s Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate (1953), Luis Buñuel’s tale of cruelty, depravity and lies That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), and a rare screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan Of Arc (1928).

Dr Sarah Chapman, Director of Peninsula Arts, said:

“It is hugely exciting to be able to show such a comprehensive body of work by an artist who not only was a pioneer in his field, changing the shape and understanding of artist film, but who also, as a Plymothian is part of the city's art history. The exhibition is a celebration of Malcolm's important and continuing contribution and will provide audiences with an opportunity to see work from the early 60s to the present day.”

Ben Borthwick, Artistic Director at Plymouth Arts Centre, said:

“Malcolm Le Grice has had a huge impact on British avant garde and popular culture, directly through the influence of his own work but also by creating spaces that allow others to develop. Starting out as a student jazz musician and painter, you can see how these early interests recur throughout the fifty years of his practice - he has consistently broken down barriers between art forms. The chance to present such a range of work as a context for a rare expanded cinema performance makes this a long overdue opportunity to evaluate the international significance of Le Grice's work.”

Malcolm Le Grice

Malcolm Le Grice studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art but began to make film, video and computer works in the mid 1960’s. Together with David Curtis he founded The London Film Makers Cooperative in 1968; it was a direct response to the lack of support for experimental film-making and included production, distribution and a cinema. It provided an outlet for the underground avant-garde cinema movement and supported radical and experimental performance artists and filmmakers.

A core member of the Coop, Malcolm was a crucial part of the 'British Expanded Cinema' movement, where the traditional one-way relationship between film and the audience was expanded to create a more interactive experience. It includes the work both inside and outside of the artwork, the live performance, projector pieces, video and a different range of media.

Malcolm Le Grice, Film als Spektakel, Ereignis und Performance, PhoenixHalle Dortmund, September 2004

'Voices' season

Peninsula Arts looks to support new and undiscovered cultural voices, as well as bringing those internationally renowned voices to the region and this is explored in this season’s programme.

In discussing how voices interpret and give new meaning to our shared cultural experiences, we looked at how artists and researchers provide a critical voice to help uncover new ways of seeing and understanding the world. We wanted to ensure you could transcend an individual cultural experience by adding depth to your own investigation of what this might mean by having the opportunity to visit various art-forms.

Berlin Horse is a double projection 16mm film from 1971, 8 minutes. Sound Brian Eno (film and video versions available) © Le Grice.


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