Step Into Tim Burton’s World

An army of dark, fantastic, and strange creatures have invaded Shanghai! Take a trip to Xintiandi to see Tim Burton's exhibition.

An army of somber creatures with peculiar looks and expressions have invaded a showroom in Xintiandi. While at first glance disturbing, these creatures have not arrived with malicious intent—they are simply Tim Burton’s latest conjuring coming to Shanghai.

Widely recognized for the film “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” amongst others, Tim Burton is an U.S. artist, producer, director, and illustrator. For almost four months, the exhibit “The World of Tim Burton” is on at the Lafayette Art & Design Center in the Huangpu district of Shanghai.

The moment you enter the gallery, you depart from late summer Shanghai and venture into a new world. Dimmed lights and dark walls are complemented by eerie music that blends into the background while still demanding attention. It feels like stepping into a live version of one of Burton’s creations.

Taking from Burton’s well-known style, a majority of the subjects are dark and attention-drawing. Creatures and figures of unorthodox shapes and sizes stare back at the viewer as if trying to emphasize their own existence. Half-way through the first floor, the viewer realizes skipping through any of the art works is not an option. Figures and scenes are gloomy, yet contain details and elements which draw the observer in.

Swaying between fine lines and thick coloring, Burton keep his works diverse enough to retain interest, while remaining true to his iconic style. The art becomes intriguing and fascinating, not just through the differing characters that are portrayed, but also through their expressions. Scenery is usually very sparse, with a clean white background and only a few additional but subtle elements to aid the portrait. Elaboration is somewhat unnecessary, as the characters speak for themselves.

Constant through all the works is the theme of morbidity. The creatures are grim, slightly distorted and some writhe in pain, imbued by the dark colors they wear. This is not to say, however, that the characters create disgust among viewers, au contraire; the creatures manage to at times be sweet and appealing. With their distinct large eyes and fluffy yet bony posture it is rather hard to not sympathize with the characters. However, discomfort remains stagnant, through the situations and values the art is set out to symbolize and represent.

From analyzing the works, it becomes fairly evident that Tim Burton is keen on using his artwork for social criticism. Despite having the physical appearance of inhuman creatures, the backstory and interactions tell of a deeper connection to the human world and its woes.

Covering topics like environmental issues and class inequalities, Burton is not afraid to blend in his own perspectives and opinions on society. Not surprising coming from Tim Burton, dark humor is cast over many of the pieces. In playing with absurd ideas and pushing the boundaries of the literal meanings of words, Burton finds a way to both capture the interest of the viewer, but also fuel his social criticism.

With varying mediums, the exhibit shows the diverse artistry of Burton. Working with both doodles on tissue paper and designs on sketch paper, Burton clearly lets his creativity flow unconditionally, regardless of time. The pen-drawn figures on napkins from Paris and the cartoon-decorated notepad from a hotel in India contribute to the fascination of the story behind the art.

Burton’s art is not merely created in one place at a certain time, but part of a creative synergy visible through his various unofficial pieces. Digging into the life of the artist, there are also pieces from his early period, where the viewer becomes further immersed in Burton’s past.

Also in the exhibition are polaroid pictures, sculptures, figurines, and of course a whole area devoted to the artist’s most famous motion pictures. As a special treat for visitors, there is also a section dedicated to the works and creations that were scrapped before ever reaching the spotlight of the theaters or galleries. These experimental works become another interesting piece in the puzzle that is the creative backstory of Tim Burton, and could be considered a hidden gem for hardcore fans.    
As it turns out, the creatures really aren’t here to wreak havoc, but to give a glimpse into the life and inner thoughts of world renown artist Tim Burton.

This article was written by Sabina Olsson . Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Sabina Olsson

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