THE ART OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN at Tate Britain

NOW SHOWING: THE ART OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN is a FREE exhibition at Tate Britain until 19 NOV 2017.


You might not have noticed, but there’s a small collection of Ray Harryhausen models and other artworks on display at Tate Britain. Why? We’re not too sure but you should go – it’s FREE.

Often described as the master of stop motion animation, Harryhausen (1920-2013) inspired generations of filmmakers to develop their own singular visions. Whilst he was a technical innovator – his Dynamation technique allowed for the matting of animated subjects into the live action frame – it is the life that he breathed into his characters that has stood the test of time. When a Harryhausen creation steps into view, it commands attention with its detailed design, vibrant personality and wondrous movement.

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Don’t go expecting a massive display like the recent STAR WARS: IDENTITIES walk through at the O2 or the INTO THE UNKNOWN genre essay at Barbican. Do go to see a small selection of Harryhausen’s most iconic creations, preparatory sketches and models for unmade movie FORCE OF THE TROJANS.

The models are in fine form and afford near 360° views as they sit in Perspex boxes in the middle of Tate Britain’s Millbank gallery. Despite the limited range – The Film Museum staged a more extensive exhibition of the maestro’s work, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: MYTHS & LEGENDS, in 2010 – aficionados will relish the opportunity to browse the models’ intimate details. Our favourite discovery? Armpit hair on the Medusa… who knew?

Intriguingly, the Skeleton from JASON & THE ARGONAUTS, Medusa and Pegasus from CLASH OF THE TITANS share a room with a bunch of John Martin’s (1789-1854) apocalyptic visions. These paintings functioned as a cinema of attractions in their day, being brought to life with dramatic sound and light shows for eager Victorian audiences. They also influenced Harryhausen – along with artists Gustav Doré and Charles R. Knight – a debt he recognised in key references throughout his films.

We like this mashup of art forms and hope that more museums explore the relationship between still and moving images. If cinema is the art form of the twentieth century, it makes sense that it was heavily influenced by what came before it. Tate’s showcase of two now historic masters also raises the tantalising question, what comes next?

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Featured image: The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, John Martin (1822).

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