The Fascinating World of clay animator, Bruce Bickford

question and answer session with Brett Ingram

On Wednesday, April 6th,  I attended a showing of Brett Ingram’s Monster Road organized by the Gregg Museum. The film is a documentary exploring the wildly fantastic worlds of legendary underground clay animator Bruce Bickford. This documentary catches up with Bickford, known for his far-out animated collaborations with rock musician Frank Zappa during the ’70s. He later became a recluse. Today he no longer makes films for any particular audience, yet remains creative. The film shows Bickford toiling away alone, fashioning clay universes of all shapes and sizes, replete with magical forests and mythical creatures. Bickford stays with his father, George, a retired engineer who shares some of his obsessions.

During the film the audience is privileged to the violence and tragedy in Bickford’s life which led to his outlandish and particularly dark works, many of which have achieved cult status worldwide. The film allows viewers to trace the origins of his remarkably unique sensibility, as it journeys back to Bickford’s childhood in a competitive household during the paranoia of the Cold War and examines his relationship with his father, George, who despite his previous occupation, is facing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Entirely self-taught, the 56-year-old Bickford works alone in a makeshift basement studio in his house near Seattle. Bickford’s father George, a retired Boeing engineer of the Cold War era, is the other main character. George’s talent for maximizing the space inside airplanes and missiles parallels his son’s animations, which often contain dozens of inch-tall figures fighting battles on a tiny set.

The Bickford family has experienced much pain, and both Bruce Bickford and his father are very much disengaged from the world around them. They do not speak of the past very much, many times during the film heavy statements are dropped by our two leading characters with no explanation or rationale. Overall Monster Road examines the ties between life’s sufferings and how Bickford’s art reflects this.

question and answer session with Brett Ingram

Film Director, Brett Ingram during the Q & A session after the screening of “Monster Road”

Following the film the Gregg Museum facilitated a Q&A with Brett Ingram, the director of the film. Listeners came to find out that George has passed away since the film and Bickford still has yet to finish any of his work. Personally, I found the film quite riveting as it told intertwined stories of loss and art. Following the film I was left to wonder about much of the work possessed by the Gregg. I wondered about much of the folk art collection and what untold life events inspired such works.

-Nina Leger, Anthropology Major
Gregg Museum Intern, Spring 2016

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