The tal­ented Mr Lynch

Film­maker David Lynch on tran­scen­dence, Twin Peaks and his first love: paint­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

THE story seems fa­mil­iar. An in­di­vid­ual, a one-time phe­nom­e­non in one field, pulls back from the spot­light to con­cen­trate on their true love: paint­ing. Film­maker David Lynch, how­ever, is no peri­patetic painter. He’s an art school grad­u­ate, and as a child he dreamed of a life of paint­ing but thought it an un­achiev­able folly. That was un­til a men­tor showed him it could be oth­er­wise.

Lynch was a promis­ing young artist be­fore mov­ing to the screen in such an in­deli­ble fash­ion, cre­at­ing off-kil­ter films and the sem­i­nal tele­vi­sion se­ries Twin Peaks, which will re­turn next year reimag­ined 25 years after the crime.

And while the world in 2015 will be wait­ing to see what ex­actly the au­teur does with that fa­mous se­ries, Lynch will have his artis­tic fo­cus set, at least briefly, on Aus­tralia.

In March, Lynch will make his first visit to th­ese shores when Bris­bane’s Gallery of Mod­ern Art presents one of the largest sur­veys of his work, a ret­ro­spec­tive of the Amer­i­can’s paint­ings, sculp­tures and films.

The ex­clu­sive show of some 200 works, en­ti­tled David Lynch: Be­tween Two Worlds and cu­rated by QAGOMA’s Jose Da Silva, con­tin­ues a late-ca­reer re­nais­sance for a man bet­ter known for the breathtaking and sin­gu­larly dis­tinct cin­ema and tele­vi­sion style that marked the 1980s and 90s, be­gin­ning with Eraser­head in 1977 through to Mul­hol­land Drive 24 years later.

Lynch agrees it “sort of is” a re­nais­sance for him, at least as an artist. He has been busy noodling away in his sprawl­ing Los An­ge­les Hills com­pound for years; it’s just we haven’t seen many of the fruits of that labour.

“I’ve been paint­ing all through the years and all I ever re­ally wanted to do in the be­gin­ning was be a painter,” he says. “So I kept paint­ing but I never showed too much.”

He de­scribes his ir­reg­u­lar gallery exhibitions through the years — in his home­town Los An­ge­les; another in New York in 1987 on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his then girl­friend and Blue Vel­vet star Is­abella Ros­sellini; and oth­ers in Ja­pan — as “hit and miss”.

But in 2007, the Paris mu­seum Fon­da­tion Cartier pour l’art Con­tem­po­rain pre­sented the first com­pre­hen­sive ex­hi­bi­tion of Lynch’s art. That ex­hi­bi­tion trav­elled to Mi­lan, Moscow and Copen­hagen. “And that started the ball rolling again,” Lynch says.

Last month, his first Amer­i­can mu­seum ret­ro­spec­tive, David Lynch: The Uni­fied Field, opened at the Penn­syl­va­nia Academy, his for­mer art school. The new QAGOMA ex­hi­bi­tion will be a dis­tinct, and larger, of­fer­ing.

Im­por­tantly, the exhibitions are “art shows” rather than cin­e­matic ret­ro­spec­tives (although QAGOMA will screen a ret­ro­spec­tive of his film, tele­vi­sion and video works at its Cin­ema- theque). To be sure, through his peak years of The Ele­phant Man (1980), Blue Vel­vet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), and Twin Peaks (1990-91), Lynch in­flu­enced more than just cin­ema. His hal­lu­ci­na­tory nar­ra­tives and vi­su­als in­formed a mul­ti­tude of storytellers and took hold of the pub­lic to the point at which it seemed we were all pon­derering who killed Laura Palmer.

His art­works give a clear view of where that all came from while be­ing their own dis­tinct achieve­ment in his ca­reer.

Da Silva says Lynch is not a to­ken painter and sculp­tor.

“Even on a ba­sic visual level, you un­der­stand how the same per­son is mak­ing th­ese films and mak­ing this work,” he says. “Un­like some film­mak­ers who dab­ble in other me­dia, his work across other me­dia has been cen­tral to his ideas about his broader cin­e­matic work.”

In­deed, ar­guably Lynch’s most strik­ing film work, the 1967 ex­per­i­men­tal short Six Men Get­ting Sick, is the apoth­e­o­sis of his paint­ing mor­ph­ing into film.

The work was a large-scale resin screen, fea­tur­ing three pro­trud­ing im­pres­sions of his own head, on to which he pro­jected a one-minute, hand­painted loop an­i­mat­ing six heads in var­i­ous stages of dis­tress. The three faces dis­tort, a siren wails and the men’s stom­achs fill with fluid that rushes to their mouths.

The art school ex­per­i­men­tal work el­e­vated his ca­reer out of the grime of Philadel­phia, the city that so in­flu­enced his work. It saw Lynch step off the can­vas and into another realm as he ex­plored his no­tion of the “mov­ing paint­ing”.

Mov­ing to film then was the log­i­cal artis­tic step. “Ex­actly,” he says of the work that was as much a film as a sculp­ture or paint­ing. “You know the rea­son I made that first film, it was a thing that came out of want­ing a paint­ing that would move.

“That’s the way I sort of saw cin­ema, es­pe­cially in the short films time (of my ca­reer). I didn’t know any­thing about cin­ema but I sort of saw it as paint­ing with sound and a story, and it was very ab­stract to me. It was an ex­ten­sion of paint­ing.”

The no­tion of a “mov­ing paint­ing” is in­trigu­ing. It is one way of ap­proach­ing the ideal of pure cin­ema yet, coun­ter­in­tu­itively, mod­ern cin­ema of­ten es­chews the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the visual. Com­po­si­tion is ig­nored in favour of ki­netic en­ergy and sto­ries are told via di­a­logue, not im­agery.

Lynch notes di­a­logue can “be like mu­sic” and re­mains im­por­tant. “But, for in­stance, Eraser­head hardly had any di­a­logue and you know, it is a com­bi­na­tion of all those things: di­a­logue, pic­tures, sound ef­fects, mood and light­ing,” he says. “But it was born out of want­ing a paint­ing to move.”

Lynch painted as a child when his fam­ily moved be­tween four towns for his fa­ther’s jobs as an agri­cul­ture depart­ment re­searcher be­fore they ended up in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, where, at the age of 14, he came un­der the wing of a friend of his fa­ther. Artist Bush­nell Keeler showed the teenaged Lynch it was per­fectly rea­son­able for adults to paint as a pro­fes­sion.

“A bomb went off in my head,” Lynch re­calls. “It was in the back of my mind that (paint­ing) was very nice to do but it wasn’t some­thing I could do when I grew up. Ab­so­lutely in that one mo­ment (I was) trans­fixed and trans­formed and I thought: ‘That’s all I want to do.’ I got per­mis­sion from the di­a­logue from that en­counter and that was it.”

Paint­ing, whether his broader cin­e­matic

Head #3 (2013) by David Lynch, be­low

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