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Tim Burton talks about his retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

The Tim Burton exhibit opens on November 26 (Image: Derek Frey)

People throw around some pretty lofty adjectives when they talk about Tim Burton. Iconic, visionary, brilliant. But it was interesting to see those words thrown directly at the man himself (sometimes all in a single sentence) at yesterday’s preview for Tim Burton: The Exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Burton took it all in stride. In a slightly crumpled pinstripe blazer and suede loafers, the master of the macabre seemed just a mite too cheerful to be the man behind Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride.

“I never really went to a museum. A wax museum, maybe,” said Burton with a wry smile as he described the sensation of seeing his work displayed as art. “I felt like it was an out-of-body experience. Like, there’s your dirty socks hanging on the wall. There’s something strange about it.”

A sketch from Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas storyboard

Originally organized for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the show contains more than 700 items including paintings, drawings, puppets, costumes, storyboards and maquettes from Burton’s own collection and studio archives. The retrospective spans his 27-year career, bookended by work Burton created at the beginning of his career with Disney. It was during this period that he famously produced reams of work that was never accepted by the studio.

“There could have been a whole room of rejection slips,” said Burton of this early work. “When I was at Disney, it was quite a strange time. I felt like I was the princess in the castle. I was treated nicely but still locked up in the castle tower. I was very grateful for being able to sit up there and draw anything I wanted for a couple years, but there was also the frustration of knowing it would never see the light of day.”

Ultimately, though, that work is seeing the light of day, here in Toronto. “I always felt this was a very artist-friendly city,” said Burton of the exhibit’s new home. “You certainly see that with the festival…it’s strange to come to a city and feel like there’s an artistic vibe here, but that’s what it feels like.”

And though he’s grateful for the exhibit, Burton is quick to point out that it doesn’t signify the end of anything. “I’m not dead yet,” he says with a grin. “Hopefully there’s still more to come.”

Tim Burton: The Exhibition runs from Nov. 26 to April 17 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

 

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