The art of Tim Burton

30. June 2019

Hollywood in Brühl! Yesterday I was at the Tim Burton exhibition at the Max Ernst Museum and as expected it was very crowded. “The World of Tim Burton” of course relies on the pull of his well-known films like “Edward with the Scissor Hands” or “Alice in Wonderland”. This is also served accordingly. With more than 600 exhibits, one is happy about familiar things, but is also astonished about discoveries.


“Knowing my stuff in this environment is special to me.” In an interview, Tim Burton commented on the parallel to the surrealist Max Ernst. The first room demonstrates this impressively. Max Ernst’s large bronze “Capricorn”, a bronze casting of the sculpture created in Arizona in 1948, shows three figures in a royal pose. Three Creatures” from 2009 now join them. As I understood it, they were brought to life from drawings by Tim Burton and created on the occasion of the show at MoMA. Together with Ernst’s mural of the Nymphengarten, many associations emerge here that could be spun into a fantastic story.

Max Ernst (“A painter is lost when he finds himself.”) and Tim Burton (“And I believe that we should always see things anew.”) look into the world “behind the mirrors. Both have dared to approach Alice in Wonderland. But where I see the surrealist Ernst as a dive into mythology and subconsciousness, Burton always seems fairy-tale and playful to me. It’s probably also a generational question.

In the adjoining room you get to know the young Burton. Here you notice the influences from the comic world and the horror films of his time. In a publication produced for the Burton exhibition at MoMA, I read an interesting statement by Tim Burton: “Growing up in Burbank, there wasn’t much of a museum culture. I never visited one until I was a teenager (unless you count the Hollywood Wax Museum). I occupied my time going to see monster movies, watching television, drawing and playing in the local cemetery.”

Tim Burton was a pioneer in his art. He made his first film at the age of 13. And in 1976, at the age of 18, he submitted the story of the giant Zlig to Disney. A first “outsider”, which many should follow. “The story is simple enough for a young audience (age 4-6), cute, and shows a grasp of the language much better than I would expect from one of today’s high school students, despite occasional lapses in grammar and spelling. It may, however, be too derivative of the Seuss works to be marketable-I just don’t know. But I definitely enjoyed reading it.” Burton received a nicely formulated rejection (the letter is in the exhibition). After his studies, Disney immediately brought him in as a draughtsman and animator.

“Saucer and Aliens” is my personal favourite picture from this early phase. It was created between 1972 and 1974 and is a tribute to the great Hieronymus Bosch. 14-year-old Tim took the “Garden of Desires” as his model and translated it into a science fiction setting. The flying saucers later populate one of Burton’s favorite films. It’s not “Mars Attacks” but the story of the charming loser “Ed Wood”. The photo station in front of the entrance to the exhibition. A concession to the visitors. Photos are not allowed.

The world of Tim Burton

In the basement the fan finally finds the figures from the movies. The Oompa Loompas from “Charly and the Chocolate Factory” stand there and smile dangerously at the visitors. That’s very Disney! But I was much more enthusiastic about the two rooms in front of it. The drawings from unrealized projects, for example. (Here I met Claude – an artistic temperamental french designer. Considers everything he does as a work of art (egoistical)”)

Another highlight are the large Polaroids, which fuelled the master’s play instinct. Here the “Blue Girl” steps into the limelight – a figure that appears in many pictures. On the one hand, her portrayal is reminiscent of classic Madonna pictures from art history. But the sewn together limbs are of course also a homage to the horror icon Frankenstein. The collage-like composition of the surprisingly large-format Polaroids draws the arch back to Max Ernst. It would have been great if the idea of a dialogue between the two artists could have been continued.

The Napkins series are also exciting. Quickly sketched out ideas for napkins that came into being during his travels around the world. This has something of the automatic writing of the Surrealists, of telephone scribbles. Without much thought, every association, every flash of inspiration is recorded unadulterated. Only to appear in one of the films at some point, of course. The division of the exhibition into subject areas seems somewhat uninspired to me. (Creatures. Influences. Reading room (here, on monitors, the book productions Burton produced for the staff at each of his films are presented). Cinema space. Polaroids. Unimplemented projects. Film characters. Figurative works. Carnevaleskes. Around the world. Misunderstood outsiders. Holidays. Black light dream.) There are a few things that go under in the crowd (take a look at the short note to Johnny Depp that Burton wrote during the shooting of “Charly and the Chocolate Factory”).

My declared favourite is little Stainboy (you could tell his story on Twitter a few years ago). The diorama, which shows him very sweetly in a Christmassy decorated house, where the walls are full of blood, shows the unmistakable mixture of horror and innocence, which is the Burton style for me. Have a look at the official website, there you can click through a beautiful Burton gallery – led by Stainboy.

I heard that Tim Burton had a lot of fun at Phantasialand. You can imagine that very well. Especially when you go into the black light room, which is designed like a kind of horror cabinet. With a flashlight you can then make individual pictures on the walls glow. A mural created by Burton directly on site is an additional surprise for the fans.

You can still visit Tim Burton in Brühl until 3 January. On the weekends there is certainly always a lot going on. Maybe I want to go there again – but then during the week. It’s definitely worth it.