Dad Photo 1988

Paul Sharits biographies
by Bruce Jenkins and The Burchfield Penny Arts Center

Bruce Jenkins on Paul Sharits, ‘Out of the Dark,’ Artforum (2009)

Sharits negates filmic illusion, and places the focus on the function and materiality of film, as well as on the viewers’ subjective perception. In N:O:T:H:I:N:G [1968] or T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G [1968] he replaced the earlier »color fields« with associative images, and thereby extended the reduced »flicker film« concept. Increasingly the sound track also developed into an equally important, rhythmic and independent element within his films. Later works focus more strongly on the physical materiality of the film strip, in as much as it is worked over, scratched, and damaged. In 3rd Degree [1982] Sharits associated the fragility of filmic material with the vulnerability of the human body.

The Frozen Film Frames [1960s-70s] are serial arrangements of film strips, which- like the sketchy Scores – visualize film’s overall structure. With the Locational Film Pieces [beginning in 1971, among them Epileptic Seizure Comparison of 1976], Sharits shifted from the context of a frontally oriented movie theatre into the gallery space, and extended reception possibilities via its open structure and the interactive play between various synchronicities. Sharits has documented filmic thinking not just in films and film installations, but also in excellent theoretical writings. His installations with multiple projections have not just extended filmic time and space, but rather pictorial space in a general sense, including that of painting. As a member of the Fluxus movement in New York, he also produced objects and performances of a profound expressiveness.

Within a non-hierarchical juxtaposition, Sharits investigated the most varied means of representation, extending from film to painting. At the beginning of the 1980s, abstract but also expressionistic image backgrounds with figurative elements were produced. Frequently he took up motifs or ideas again, moved them from one medium into the next, and made thinking’s circulating process itself into a focus of attention. Paul Sharits taught from 1973 until his death in 1993 in the Department of Media Study at SUNY, Buffalo.

“What has taken us time to fully grasp and then aesthetically accommodate is the radicality of the break Sharits made. He had abandoned painting by the mid-’60s, seeing in film a practice that provided a greater range of philosophical and aesthetic registers. In short order, he created a series of canonical 16-mm works exploiting the flicker effect, including Word Movie/Fluxfilm 29 (1966), N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), and T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968). His subsequent shift to installation—what he termed “locational film pieces”—returned his work to the gallery and brought “the act of presenting and viewing a film as close as possible to the conditions of hanging and looking at painting.” What made these works manifestly ready for the white cube was in part his singular rejection of film’s representational content, its traditional reliance on mimesis and language, and in part his willingness to take the technology in hand and refashion it for his own needs. He composed his films using color-coded scores and fabricated them from nonobjective sources. His deployment of the standard apparatus for exhibition—the motion-picture projector—required an alteration of the transport and shutter mechanisms. For his first locational piece,Sound Strip/Film Strip, 1971, Sharits shifted the standard aspect ratio of film by projecting the images sideways, and for Shutter Interface he serially aligned the projectors in a manner that critic Rosalind Krauss described at the time as “muraliz[ing] the field of projection.” Even the visible presence of the projectors—a taboo for nearly all forms of cinema, from commercial to avant-garde—created what Krauss termed a “sculptural” presence and revealed “the work’s involvement in its own material basis.”


Paul Sharits

Burchfield-Penny Arts Center – SUNY at Buffalo State College Buffalo New York

Born: Denver, Colorado, U.S.

Paul Sharits was born in Denver, Colorado and earned a BFA in painting at the University of Denver’s School of Art where he was a protege of Stan Brakhage. He also attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana where he received an MFA in Visual Design. In July 1960, he married Frances Trujillo Niekerk, and in 1965 they had a son, Christopher. They divorced in 1970.He was subsequently a teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Antioch College, and, from 1973 to 1993, the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Sharits is recognized internationally as a pioneering experimental filmmaker; however, he was trained as a painter and adapted strategies from both disciplines in his work. His influence on audiences worldwide was very apparent during his life.

Beginning in the 1960s, Sharits utilized structuralist theory and painting strategy to create non-narrative, non-objective works he called “flicker films” that were about the elements of film itself. He became a master of intercutting one medium with the other, using linear film structures in his painting and planning his films with scores, conceived as colored ink drawings on grid paper. His Frozen Film Frame Series showed this process in reverse as two-dimensional, post-production renderings of his films. In these works, strips of film are sandwiched between two sheets of Plexiglas, which when lit are reminiscent of stained glass windows. Sharits later integrated individual words, polemic texts, soundtracks, and surreal meaning into his films and paintings, concurrent with his association with the Fluxus movement. His multiple projector installations during the 1970s in museums in New York City, Buffalo, and throughout Europe changed how the public perceived film.

Sharits came to Buffalo in 1973 to join filmmakers Hollis Frampton, James Blue, and Tony Conrad in the Center for Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He also befriended Gerald O’Grady, the founding director of Media Study/Buffalo, a community-based organization and regional center established in 1971 “to encourage the creation and understanding of media – especially photography, film, and videotape- by people of all ages.” [1] O’Grady later became director of the University’s Center for Media Study. He regarded Sharits as “one of the true masters of modern film … Of all the filmmakers in history, he is the most painterly. His film derives from painting’s texture and visual design … It is not about the camera. Nor is it about editing. It is about light, color, visual texture, and design.”

Sharits’s work of the 1980s often reflected a tortured persona, as he experienced a series of accidents and assaults, including being stabbed in the back and nearly fatally wounded by a gunshot. Nevertheless, he thrived on challenging society and its preconceptions of art and film through his work, his underground lifestyle, and his notorious soirées that encouraged a dialogue on current advances in the field.

His work is in the collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

For more on Paul Sharits, visit

[1] Gerald O’Grady, “Media Study/Buffalo,” reprinted in Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973-1990, ed. Woody Vasulka and Peter Weibel, MIT Press, 2008.