Stan VanDerBeek: Complexity in Forms

Stan VanDerBeek, (Jan. 6, 1927 – Sept. 19, 1984) lived a successful and inspiring career as an artist in many ways. He graduated from Cooper Union College and then Black Mountain College as an architect, but being deeply influenced by Max Ernst, the Dada and surrealist movements, and the beat generation, he began as an artist and then learned animation techniques on film. His work served as stepping stone to experimental video culture, and the innovativeness of his work during the 1950s was groundbreaking. He started his career creating independent art film, settings in the TV show Winky Dink and You, making his own Movie Drome theater, and creating Poem Fields in collaboration with Ken Knowlton. From the 1970’s until his death he was in charge of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) visual arts program.

VanDerBeek was always very interested in technology, and how to play with it to make his films more contemporary and different. His play with textures, shapes, colors, and collage-animation put him ahead of his time; it was to no surprise, for he was a very forward thinking individual. He aimed to produce both personally appeasing and universally standing pieces in which he exercised a “non-verbal, international picture language”. What is most interesting about VanDerBeek’s artwork is the fact that he included the technological movement, the political turmoil of the time, and many more abstract ideas into his work because of the way he limited his audio and focused in pictures to express his self.

He managed to complete a series of works that challenged the complexity of human thought in a visual way; his work is that of machine and human coming together as one powerful and influential entity. “A pioneer of multi-screen projections, he also explored new possibilities for media presentation starting with his Steam Projections at the Guggenheim Museum, at his Movie-Drome theater in Stony Point, NY, and with the interactive broadcast of his Violence Sonata simultaneously on two TV channels in 1970”. In these large scale projections he aimed to have an intense flux of information thrown together in an overwhelming, almost cluttered and disorganized manner to express the opposite of modern day media. There was no selection of information, but rather an intense amount of it, proving the immense amount of knowledge in the world, all of its facets, and the overwhelming connection that they all possess.

There is certain angst to his films – a need to express information. The context of his collage animation is a delicate mix of political satire, hedonist beat generation ideals, and avant-garde thought. The intensity of colors and movement is his films as well as the intricate collage patterns make the viewer be drawn into the exuberant pleasure that his films induce. His work is supposed to drown over all of your initial assumptions for it takes the mind into an unexplored place of thought.


Dowell, Pat. Stan VanDerBeek: Film On The Cutting Edge. July 10, 2011.

Gallagher, Steve.  Stan VanDerBeek. 9/17/2004 11:53:00 AM.

Holland, James Cunning. A CORPUS LIVES ON: Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom. Afterimage Publication. MIT List Visual Arts Center. Cambridge, Massachusetts. February 4-April 3, 2011

Moritz, William. “Stan Vanderbeek.” L’art du Mouvement 1919-1996. Ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours, Cinéma du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1996, 443.


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