Clifford B. West
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      wpe4.jpg (18152 bytes)      wpe3.jpg (11068 bytes)    
       1971: Oslo, Norway, filming the Rolf Nesch         1970: Florence, Italy, filming    Clifford at 84.   Photo by Anna West
                Trilogy                                                            Bronze: River of Metal
                                                                                     (photo by Franco Roselli)

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View Clifford West's films Bronze, River of Metal, The Creative Journey: Arnold Blanch, Edvard Munch: Paintings , Edvard Munch: Graphics, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture, and Harry Bertoia's Sculpture. The Academic Film Archive of North America continues to be active in assisting the West family in documenting and preserving his films.  For that story, click here.

An interesting and unique body of work was filmed by artist Clifford West, whose more than 25 films on artists and aspects of art history, made between 1958 and 1981, utilize a camera-as-brush technique more in keeping with the approach taken by a painter than a filmmaker.  West's serpentine zooms and pans emulate the non-linear way an individual looks at a piece, as opposed to the manner in which a more traditional cinematographer plans, then shoots, a work of art.  Many of his films on Florentine art derived from an estimated 40-50,000 feet of film shot on one trip, then edited into films on different themes.  

In addition to his Renaissance films, West made several films on modern artists.  Especially notable is Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture, with its close-up hand-held pan and zoom making the sculpture seem more like a lunar landscape, its purposely out-of-focus impressionist framing suddenly giving way to a sharper, still-abstract representational image, and its utilization of Bertoia’s own musique-concrète score (West, in fact, asked the sculptor to bang on his work with metal objects with microphone present).   Although appearing in the permanent collections of over 150 museums, and having his work championed by art historian H.W. Janson, among others, West’s work, ranging in subject matter from Florentine architecture to Edvard Munch, remains difficult to find, and worthy of a fresh look.

West was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 4th, 1916, and began making films as an art instructor at Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Art, initially due to the fact that he couldn't find appropriate film to demonstrate the concept of negative space.  He continued to paint and teach in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in the non-profit AVA Gallery run by his wife Bente Torjusen, until he passed away on October 22, 2006.  On his passing, daughter Anna West wrote: "At 5:50 am Clifford rode off on his horse, paintbrush in hand, into the morning light .... His loving family was there wishing him farewell on his journey. From time to time, look into the sky for the many beautiful murals he has yet to paint..."

Filmography 

Films prefaced with an asterisk * are available in video format from AVA Gallery and Art Center, 11 Bank Street, Lebanon, NH 03766   (603) 448-3117)

Metamorphosis (1958)

Time - Form - Color (documenting Ossabaw Island,Georgia) (1958) A study in plant forms, skeletal sculptures, and habitat.

The Fountain of Faith (Carl Milles) (1960?) West says Milles (who studied with Rodin) was a hero of sorts at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, where West studied. Here the filmmaker takes a reverential approach in a black and white study of the sculptor’s fountain in Falls Church, Virginia.
The Fountains of Carl Milles (1960)

Travis, Tigers, and Wild Boars (watercolorist Paul Travis) (1960?)

Berthold "Tex" Schiwetz, Sculptor (1962?)

The Creative Journey: Arnold Blanch (1964) Here, West surveys the life and work of Arnold Blanch, showing him as a teacher and painter in Woodstock, New Jersey.

The Basilicia of San Lorenzo (1964) Here, in the edifice built by Brunelleschi as the Medicis’ parish church, we explore the work of Donatello, from his bronze pulpit, to his massive doors of the sacristy.

Florentine Workshop of the Pietre Dure (1964)  Shows how "paintings" in semi-precious stones are made, using patterns, saws, and files, showcasing the museum of Edificio de la Pietre Dure in Florence, established by the Medici family.

* The "Davids" of Florence (1964)

* Michelangelo: The Medici Chapel (1964)  In 1519, Pope Leo X authorized the 44 year old sculptor to begin a series of seven funerary statues in the Medici Chapel, adjacent to the Church of San Lorenzo. In 1534 he left angrily, and never returned to completely finish them. West’s camera caresses these forms, examining hands, faces, folds in clothing, first looking at one sculpture, then another, then returning again, mirroring the way many of us look at these sculptures when we visit the Medici chapel, back, forth, sideways, backwards, settling for a few moments on one element, while another across the room beckons.

* Harry Bertoia's Sculpture (1965)  Born in Italy in 1915, Bertoia eventually moved to Michigan, attended Cass Technical High School, where he was introduced to metals, and moved on to the Cranbrook Academy, where he met fellow student Clifford West. Shortly after his marriage in 1943 (West was his best man), Bertoia moved to California at the behest of his friend Charles Eames, and collaborated on the design of the famous ‘Eames Chair’ produced by Knoll Associates. In the 1950s, he set up his own studio in Bally, Pennsylvania, where he designed the well-known ‘Bertoia Chair’, also for Knoll. Soon, he was experimenting with sculptures of different alloys and patinas, and would create ‘musique concrète’ soundscapes utilizing his sculptures. He died in 1978, a victim, says West, of heavy metal poisoning, acquired as a result of his constant proximity to metals and chemicals.  From a cinemagraphic and sound perspective, this is West’s most progressive film, as abstract in filmmaking technique as the sculptures themselves. Opening with the camera slowly moving over what appears to be the surface of the moon, it suddenly falls back to reveal instead the texture of a sculpture. The film is one of constant motion, resulting from the vertiginous movements of West’s camera, or the movement built into the sculptures themselves. The music, played by Bertoia, utilizing various objects alternately hammering or caressing his sculptures, is reminiscent of the work of Xenakis. From the perspective of West’s career, the film marked the beginning of a new, bolder approach to camera movement, as seen in later films such as ‘Bronze: River of Metal’ (1972), and ‘The Art of Rolf Nesch: Material Pictures’ (1972).

Florentine Architecture of the Renaissance (1965)

The Cathedral and the Baptistry of Florence (1965) Initially an examination of the architecture and sculpture of the Florentine cathedral, West's moving camera provides an intimate exploration of Michelangelo's 'The Deposition', Ghiberti's bronze panels, and Donatello's shockingly dissolute Mary Magdalen.

Siena (1965)

The Cantoria of Luca della Robbia (1965)

The Basicilca of Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel (1967) West turns to one of the finest examples of Franciscan architecture in Italy, investigating its exterior and interior, which includes the mural cycle of Giotto, Donatello's Annunciation and Crucifix, and marble pulpit of Benedetto da Maiano. Standing adjacent to the church is Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel where the director investigates its architectural elements.

* Edvard Munch: Paintings (1968) Examines the life and works of Norwegian-born artists Edvard Munch, accompanied by excerpts from his letters and writings, and illustrates important stages of his development with key works.

* Edvard Munch: Graphics, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture (1968)  Born in 1863, the Norwegian artist watched his mother and sister succumb to tuberculosis by the time he was fourteen, leaving him with a deep foreboding of death, which colored his early canvases and works on paper. Munch was also haunted by the spectre of beautiful women, who he portrayed as vampires or dominant sexual forces, and characterized his perspective on new artistic technology by stating: "The camera cannot compete with the brush and the palette so long as it cannot be used in heaven or hell." Here, West looks at drypoints, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and woodcuts, providing examples from the artist’s oeuvre, and, just as importantly from the perspective of the learner, explains how, mechanically, these works are created. Most impressive are the woodcuts, and the four-stone, four color lithographs. Of the 700 or so graphic images created in the artist’s lifetime, we explore some of the more significant, including ‘The Scream’, ‘ Madonna’, ‘Three Stages of Women’, and ‘Vampire’; West juxtaposes different versions of the work, often transposing one version over another. During the making of this film, West was guided by Munch scholar Bente Torjusen, who collaborated with him on the making of several other films, as well as two daughters. For further information on the artist, and for a preview of some of the images central to the film, visit http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/litho/index.htm

Romanesque Churches in Northern Italy (Tuscany) (1968) A breathtakingly beautiful film, focusing on Sant' Atimo, near Siena, and San Mineato al Monte in Florence, marred somewhat by the didactic, halting narration of Gilian Ford Shallcross.

The François Vase (1969) This famed 6th century BCE vase, painted by Kleitias, and made by Ergotimos, is adorned with tales of Achilles and Theseus. West investigates every scene, including the battle of the pygmies and cranes, and Ajax carrying the dead Achilles.

In Search of an Ecological Balance (1969)

Ossabaw Island Project (1969)

Give and Take (ecological subject matter) (1971)

* Bronze: River of Metal (1972) Here, West looks at the art of casting Renaissance bronzes as a historian, appreciator, critic, and craftsman. The film begins with historian Bruno Bearzi showing Donatello's modifications, and his 14 separate castings, on the colossal bronze of St. Louis of Toulouse at the Museo dell'Opera. Then, a visit to the Hades-like Fonderia Ferdinando Marinelli, where four workers prepare casts for the lost-wax process, then laboriously hoist the heavy, molten bronze crucible, and carefully pour off its terrible contents, to a soundtrack of ambient noise made by sculptor Harry Bertoia. Finally, the director turns to the past, through the doors of Ghiberti in the Baptistry of Florence.

* The Art of Rolf Nesch, A Trilogy: A Visit to Al, Graphics, Material Pictures (each 1972)   Rolf (Emil Rudolf) Nesch was born in Germany in 1893, but fled to Norway in 1933 as a result of Nazi persecution, remaining there until his death in 1975.  In 'Material Pictures', one of a trilogy of films made by West on the artist, we see Nesch's work evolve from welding ribbons of material onto metal plates, resulting in bas-relief prints, to the integration of three-dimensional forms of ceramic, glass, and metal with paint, to form a "material picture".  West's camerawork on the massive 'Herring Catch' is a tour-de-force of art-vérité, climbing in, out, over, and around the sculpture, dizzying and electrifying.  For more on the artist, visit: http://www.norwaypost.no/NP/culture/musnesch.html

Palazzo Medici and the Medici: A Trilogy (1981)


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