Susan Michals of the Wall Street Journal had an interview with Tim Burton to discuss his art exhibition, which has arrived at LACMA in Los Angeles, his upcoming Dark Shadows, and the sources of his inspirations:
Speakeasy: This exhibition is great on so many levels – but one of the biggest is your work is bringing in a whole new audience to someplace like LACMA.
Tim Burton: The biggest compliment I’ve gotten so far is from people that don’t usually go to museums. It makes people realize that anything is possible. I think that one the things that made it acceptable is it’s not something that was ever meant to really be…but I think the curators did a good job in sort of not making it to like it’s great artwork but this is somebody’s process. It’s great to me to inspire people – to keep drawing, even if they think they can’t do it – to show that you don’t have to be the greatest artist in the world – if you like it, that’s the important thing.
I enjoyed seeing the timeline of your life and career …starting from your school days at Cal Arts and then moving from room to room into your films.
I don’t know where they found all this stuff. [laughs] It makes it seem like I’m one of the most organized, archivists – but it’s like it’s really just stuffed into drawers. I didn’t even know that 90% of it existed.
Considering you’re a local boy (Burton was born and raised in Burbank) what’s it feel like to have this exhibition here?
It’s special – it also it helps that I don’t live here because otherwise I would’ve been much more freaked out probably. But I’m here for one day so it’s okay.
Seeing the work in its entirety – how does that feel?
I haven’t been in there today – I think I need to go in when no one’s around because I would feel extremely vulnerable. It was stuff for the most part that was private – it was only for studio people or projects but never meant for that kind of thing.
There’s always an element of comedy in the macabre in your work. Is that to make it less scary?
No I think it’s just the way I feel. I always found life to be a combination of funny and scary. I grew up watching horror movies and I never found them scary; I actually found them quite funny and beautiful. So for me, it’s capturing a certain emotional state that encapsulates all of that.
I can only imagine what your house looks like.
It’s filled with a bunch of junk, but it’s probably pretty close to what you’d imagine. [laughs] I’ll give you a quick story. When they closed down the Movieland Wax Museum I bought a couple of wax figures, including one of Sammy Davis, Jr. And one of my kids friends – we got a call from one of the parents, alarmed, saying that the kid had come home and said we had a dead black man on our sofa.
I take it he was reclining at that moment.
He was just lying on the sofa – I hadn’t put him up yet. And we have a lot of Oompa Loompa’s around; that scares a lot of the kids.
What’s your take on life after death?
Growing up in a middle class, suburban environment like Burbank it was sort of a taboo subject. One of the things growing up in Los Angeles, you’re quite ingrained in the Hispanic community where they have the Day of Dead ceremonies. I’ve always appreciated that approach – where it’s a much more positive attitude. All those folktales there’s a great spiritual aspect to them; I think that’s what great about those stories – it’s great to just emotionally explore those things. You know, it’s a part of life. Everybody’s gonna go – at least have some positive imagery.
Let’s talk eyeballs. There’s a lot of them in this exhibition.
I don’t know, Jack Skellington doesn’t have any eyeballs. That was a big sell job trying to pitch a movie where a character has no eyes. [laughs] Eyes are important, or…eye sockets.
Okay, now I have your token “Dark Shadows” question.
You mean, why? [laughs hysterically]
Sometime next year. Just starting shooting a few days ago.
So what do you do with your free time?
I’m always tinkering. But I also think it’s really important to just space out and look at trees or clouds – even if you’re busy…that’s why I’m kind of have a fear of technology – it’s nice to not be reached at every moment of the day. I don’t even know my home phone number – I like having space. My mind races all the time but you gotta try to create that moment otherwise you’ll burn out.