Film

Filmmaker Suzan Pitt honored for elevating the art and craft of film animation

By Dena Miller
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/14/18

The term "award-winning" is not lightly used here. Spanning a career of decades, Pitt has been recognized by the most prestigious international and national purveyors of independent films, including...

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Film

Filmmaker Suzan Pitt honored for elevating the art and craft of film animation

Posted

Most of us grew up with Disney cartoons and Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes," but there's a world of animation that exists way beyond the fairy tales and cartoons of our childhoods. It's edgy, avant garde, surreal, fantastical, or a mix of all of the above, and it lives here in Taos in the studio of award-winning animated filmmaker, Suzan Pitt.

The term "award-winning" is not lightly used here. Spanning a career of decades, Pitt has been recognized by the most prestigious international and national purveyors of independent films, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, Sundance Film Festival, New York Film Festival, London Film Festival, Ottawa International Animated Film Festival, and the Image Forum Film Festival in Tokyo.

And once again Pitt is in the news, this time for being named as the AnimaFest Lifetime Achievement Award winner of the 29th World Festival of Animated Film, which is held in Zagreb, Croatia. She will be honored at the opening ceremony scheduled for June 3, 2019.

Pitt was caught by surprise with the committee's decision. "I didn't know I was under consideration, and first heard of my receiving the award when it was announced (Oct. 29). But of course I'm thrilled to receive the honor," she 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."

Pitt graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Arts, renowned as the cradle of the 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 noted.

"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, non-digitalized 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 calls her "interior imagining."

"A promenade through the oeuvre of animator Suzan Pitt is like taking part in a bohemian calvacade disguised as a dollhouse, awash with luminous colors and energetic imagery while grinding atonal music from a Holly Hobbie record player. She's a balls-to-the-wall art school darling: unassuming, yet filled to the brim with edifying duplicity. Pitt inspires one to glean from life what one gleans from her art," said author-artist-filmmaker Alfred Eaker in his introduction to her DVD, "Animated Films of Suzan Pitt."

Included in the DVD is perhaps her most celebrated short film titled, "Asparagus." For those of you who enjoyed the midnight cinema circuit popularized during the late 1970s, you may recall its status as the featured opener for another quintessential avant garde film, David Lynch's "Eraserhead."

"Asparagus" is a cornucopia of color and images that is breathtaking in scope and female psychological voluptuousness. Created over four years while teaching at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, Pitt noted that each second of the 20-minute film typically required 12 hand-painted images on celluloid.

In addition to "Asparagus," the shorts "Joy Street," "El Doctor," "Visitation," and "Pinball" are featured on the DVD. The five films will be those highlighted at AnimaFest, as they were earlier this year during the 2018 Shanghai International Film & TV Festival (SIFF).

It was the first time in SIFF's history that they chose to headline a single artist in the animation portion of the festival, hailing her work as groundbreaking and visionary.

There is so much more in the repertoire of this artist, however. Her first fine art show, mounted in Detroit in 1966, sold out, Pitt's first inkling that her art struck a responsive chord. She has gone on to large multimedia installations and murals, and was the first to incorporate animation into opera production, designing sets, costumes and 35mm film projections for the State Opera of Wiesbaden's "The Magic Flute" and "The Damnation of Faust" for the Hamburg State Opera.

Pitt has also renewed her collaboration with the New York costume designer, Patricia Field, who became a household name thanks to HBO's wildly successful series, "Sex and the City." Pitt's whimsically outrageous coats and jackets, all one of a kind, are coveted by fashionistas around the globe.

"I think of them as animated objects whose images can dart in and out of doorways, cross streets, ride in cars and stand at bars late into the night. I never know which one I will paint next. Each coat comes out as a new statement, each one a unique artwork," Pitt said.

In addition to her academics at the Carpenter Center, Pitt has worked with students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the California Institute of the Arts. She found a sense of her own increased creativity through the awakening of her students.

"Animation is the epitome of cinematic structure, from developing characters, physical spaces, stories, music and sound. As you move forward you find there are a lot you can do with those skills." Suzan Pitt has certainly proven that to be true.

For more information about this artist, visit suzanpitt.com.

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