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Aesthetics Dallying Between Dreams and Sleep: The Work of the Quay Brothers


Modeling unique creatures and giving them life frame by frame these twins take by assault many different aesthetic realms.

Stop Motion animation, one of the early tricks in the history of film was first realized by Georges Méliès in 1880, and consists in giving life to inert objects, bestowing fluid motion and intelligence to anything deprived of these qualities. The animator is akin to the mad scientist who exclaims, crazily, It’s Alive! It’s Alive! after animating a monster. This creative delirium of man, this mad dream, has been with us forever: the creation of a monster who gets to know the world and its creator.

The identical twin brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay (United States, 1947) have created incredible works and have even generated their own personal language that has transformed the foundations and the techniques of stop-motion animation. From their first works they seemed to have had a profound vision: films that are a combination of painting, sculpture, film and literature, and which have been influencing innumerable artists since the 1970’s.

In 1969 the twins decided to go and study at the Royal College of Art in London. Since, they have followed a prolific two-headed career. The complex network of symbols that they work with in their films, the dark themes and their unique approach to every strange detail follows the symbolist current of animation, which originally developed in Poland in the 1950’s. Their sometimes disturbing scenes give a unique view into the hands and heads of the brothers, the modelers and writers who crafted the messages and moments which are sometimes compassionate but often cruel and disturbing. The references come from literature, poetry, history, and, of course, film, while the creations are always unique and certainly deserve the praise they continue to receive.

Renowned Welsh director Peter Greenaway has collaborated with the brothers. Terry Gilliam considers their short film “The Street of Crocodiles” one of the best animated films of all time. And now the MoMA has an exhibit of design, illustration and animation until January 7 that features the Quay brothers.

Keith Griffiths, old colleague from the Royal Academy, is the producer of the Quay films. In 1980 the three of them formed Koninck Studios. Some of their influences include Polish director Walerian Borowczyk and the legendary Czech director/animator Jan Švankmajer. The musicalization of their works is a perfect compliment to the overwhelming scenes of these mad geniuses, the brothers who can turn any boring moment into something disturbing and mysterious.

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