Acclaimed filmmaker Suzan Pitt died June 17 at her home in Taos, according to her daughter-in-law Laura Kraning, The New York Times reported Friday (June 21). She was 75. Her cause of …
Acclaimed filmmaker Suzan Pitt died June 17 at her home in Taos, according to her daughter-in-law Laura Kraning, The New York Times reported Friday (June 21). She was 75. Her cause of death was stated to be pancreatic cancer.
In a story published in November 2018, Tempo writer Dena Miller said Pitt was caught by surprise when named the AnimaFest Lifetime Achievement Award winner of the 29th World Festival of Animated Film on October 29.
"I didn't know I was under consideration, and first heard of my receiving the award when it was announced. But of course I'm thrilled to receive the honor," Pitt said.
AnimaFest, the second oldest film festival devoted exclusively to the art of animation, selected Pitt by unanimous decision and said of her in their announcement, "By collaging narratives from smaller segments, she creates dramaturgic suspense, at the same time questioning the possibilities of cinematic structure, penetration into the work, the spectator position."
"In a diverse group of experimental short films like 'Asparagus,' 'Joy Street' and 'El Doctor,' Ms. Pitt pursued an idiosyncratic vision influenced by Surrealist artists like Leonora Carrington, the pioneering animator Max Fleischer's cartoons (notably with Betty Boop), underground comics and, most of all, her interior world," The Times stated.
"She put her undiluted, unadulterated, uncensored dreams on the screen," John Canemaker, an Academy Award-winning animator, said in a phone interview for The Times story.
Notably, Pitt's animation was done without computer. Each frame was hand-painted and drawn, and 12 different images were required for every second of film. Each project required years of planning, storyboarding and experimentation, helped by a team of artists paid through grants. Pitt never had the backing of a major studio.
"She entered the animation world through painting, combining painting techniques, her love of flora and fauna with hallucinatory pop-worlds and Mexico as the eternal source of inspiration, reflecting on the social issues she encounters," a statement on the Animafest website (suzanpitt.com/news-main/animafest-zagreb-lifetime-achievement-award) stated. "By collaging narratives from smaller segments, she creates dramaturgic suspense, at the same time questioning the possibilities of cinematic structure, penetration into the work, the spectator position. She has skillfully tried her hand at very different media, crossing thresholds, boundaries and walls between mural painting, fashion design, animation, video set design for operas and gallery spaces."
Pitt graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Arts, renowned as the cradle of American modernism. She majored in painting and held a minor in printmaking. "It wasn't until 1968 that I even imagined a vocation in experimental animation," she told Tempo.
"It wasn't anything I set out to study. I was never a student of film and was just beginning to appreciate [the genre's] inherent movement," which made her look at her canvases with a different eye. "What if I moved the subject this way or that? Then, I've created action and the passage of time." By the early 1970s she was experimenting with 8mm and, subsequently, 35mm film.
Her proficiency in traditional, nondigitalized processes and an unerring selection of materials with which to create her imagery is what has elevated Pitt in the field. Vibrant, saturated acrylic paints play with ink, chalk, sand and a myriad of techniques to create a world that is founded in what she called her "interior imagining."
"Pitt was also known for the fashionable hand-painted coats she created (and sold), using images from her films and popular culture," The Times wrote. "And her animation film work was used in the set designs of two operas, Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' and Berlioz's 'The Damnation of Faust,' both staged in West Germany in the 1980s."
She also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000, and taught animation at Harvard and the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita.
In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented five of her restored films, continuing a relationship with her that began in 1979 with a showing of "Asparagus." Josh Siegel, a film curator at MoMA, said in a Times phone interview that Pitt had thrived as an independent filmmaker "entirely because of her singular vision, her sense of humor and her wicked, subversive aesthetic."
Pitt is survived by her son Blue Kraning, her sister, Melinda Carlton, and her brother, John. Her marriage to Alan Kraning ended in divorce. For more information about this artist, visit suzanpitt.com.
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