“DAVID LYNCH: THE UNIFIED FIELD”
from: September 13, 2014 till January 11, 2015
at THE PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF THE FINE ARTS (http://www.pafa.org)
118-128 N. Broad Street • Philadelphia, PA 19102 • 215-972-7600
David Lynch, known to most as an international filmmaker, is an alumni of THE PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY OF THE FINE ARTS the oldest art school in the USA, as am I. PAFA is located in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love”, founded by Quaker, William Penn, and was the birthplace of the American Revolution. Notorious for its firing of Thomas Eakins, it was where artists, like Hopper, Lawrence & O’Keefe, attended its programs.
Whether in film or paintings all of Lynch’s work is made from outside the box, to which ANOTHER ExPERIMENT BY WOMEN FILM FESTIVAL (AXW for short) that I curate espouses.
Robert Cozzolino, PAFA’s curator, worked with Lynch and his L.A. gallery, Kayne Griffin Corcoran, to create “THE UNIFIED FIELD,” that includes prints, paintings and screens with Lynch’s earliest films running on them.
Jacket Cover – David Lynch The Unified Field
Lynch drew since he was a kid. Knives, guns, airplanes and his ultimate favorite, the Browning 747 machine gun, were his subjects.
His mother wouldn’t buy him any coloring books (God Bless Her); instead he drew on used paper from his Dad’s office that had typing on one side of it, a common thing back then. His father was a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the family moved around a lot. Lynch grew up in the woods. This exposed him to the physicality of plants and earth, and the life cycle of growth and decay; and perhaps influenced his use of texture, collage and a density found in the forms of his fine art works.
Lynch thought when you grew up you weren’t allowed to draw anymore. His high school friend, Jack Fisk (later his production designer) introduced him to his father who was an artist. Encouraged by this reality, Lynch attended several Art Schools, but left un-satisfied. Eventually he studied at the PENNSYLVANIA ACADEMY, where the program directive aimed one to make a classic product that could stand the test of time.
There, in the late 1960’s, there was camaraderie in their student body, and Francis Bacon’s recent retrospective was of paramount importance.
Philadelphia gallerists, Roger LaPelle and Christine McGinnis, gave Lynch hope that he could continue as an artist, by hiring him as a printmaker, and giving him small sums of money for his artworks, when he was struggling.
David Lynch making lithographs at Idem, Paris, 2008 Photo: Patrice Forest
When discussing his process, Lynch’s hands gesture, his face reveals catches of happiness or anxiety. He says that his paintings have nothing to due with his films, and there is no theory, no philosophy behind them. They don’t have anything to do with any other artists’ work or inspiration. He is not a film buff or knowledgeable about art or film histories. So then, where does one place this work, whose practice was sanctioned by this educational environment?
The city of Philadelphia, caused Lynch’s imagination to click.
He found the black industrial dust covering the architecture alluring, and the interior rooms of its row houses held the proportions of the human form well.
Filmic counterparts to this inspiration find their way into his mise-en-scenes of THE GRANDMOTHER, (the boy grows an exotic mushroom after digging in dirt piled onto his bed) or the schmutz, felt more than seen, in ERASERHEAD.
In his monoprints, he used thick paper with depth of almost a quarter inch on hydraulic presses that could squeeze inked objects, like the head of a dead chicken, to make impressions.
still from Lynch’s film, THE GRANDMOTHER. ©201-Lili White
Philadelphia was also known as the capital city for ice cream, bread, methamphetamine and music (Sun Ra, Gamble & Huff, American Bandstand). Corruption and danger lurked there, and a palatable sense of fear and uncertainty resided in the population. While Lynch and his wife and child slept, burglars broke into their home, and a murder took place on the street near his house.
Each painting is an illustration of a passage from a story found in Lynch’s mind.
He depicts unease and violence and sometimes throws what seems like a humorist twist onto it (All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth). Perhaps this acts as a buffer and gives us a way to examine the image longer without shying away from it.
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth 2012, Mixed media on paper,
20 3/4 x 29 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles, CA
Lynch visited the morgue across the street from his house. The painting,
Sick Man (with Elephantine Arm), from 1968 would seem to point to a visit to
The College of Physicians’ Mutter Museum (http://muttermuseum.org) that presents a history of disease, with preserved odd specimens that are bizarre but beautiful. They include “the Soap Lady”, similar to a character in ERASERHEAD, and preserved bones of a victim of Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva, an affliction that could appear similar to that of Joseph Merrick, the character in his film THE ELEPHANT MAN.
Sick Man (with Elephantine Arm) 1968, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 in.
Collection of Rodger LaPelle and Christine McGinnis, Philadelphia, PA
Like a kid who made snowmen out of his mashed potatoes and peas, Lynch’s paintings look like they’re made with dirt and spit. Dense mixed media works
(A Figure Witnessing the Orchestration of Time) perhaps contain organic materials affixed to some canvases, such as, a slab of beef and its maggots, or a dead mouse. Further actions, like dripping salt water onto this material creates another color; making an alchemical experiment, that leapt away from the total use of paint, as it beckoned in the next generation of art-making. Such a method conveys a visceral feeling of the body holding energy, as it takes the viewer along on an adventure to some deeper place in our mind.
A Figure Witnessing the Orchestration of Time, ca. 1990,
Oil and mixed media on canvas; 65 x 65 1/8 in. Courtesy of the artist
Teeth and collaged appendages adhere to figures in dialogue with the bodily realities of us all; calling awareness to suffering and mortality. Human forms grapple in landscapes that span between heaven and earth; as in
Holding Onto the Relative, whose sun star couples with a mud pit as a glyphic elemental sign of Earth.
Holding Onto the Relative 2008, Mixed media on canvas 82 1/4 x 130 1/4 x 8 ¾” framed, Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery www.kaynegriffincorcoran.com
Shadow of a Twisted Hand Across My House paints its sky in horizontal bands, while vertical bands defining the ground, seem to melt down into hell, as the shadow of a hand or is it really a “tree”?, covers the house.
David Lynch’s Shadow of a Twisted Hand Across My House, ©2014 Lili White
Like children’s storybooks, his prints and paintings, have text on them, that contain warnings, like, There’s Nothing Here, Please Go Away; or maybe, they are just facts, or perhaps a pretense to scare away the hands descending from “clouds” in the sky.
David Lynch’s There’s Nothing Here, Please Go Away ©2014 Lili White
Primal emotion and feeling-tones prevail, stretching between the personal into today’s global mood of anger and unrest ( Boy Lights Fire and I Burn Pinecone and Throw In Your House)
Boy Lights Fire 2010 Mixed media on cardboard, 72 x 108 in. Courtesy of the artist
I Burn Pinecone and Throw In Your House 2009
Mixed media on cardboard, electrical system, bulbs framed behind plexiglass, 72 x 108 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Karl Pfefferle, Munich, Germany
Once, while working on a landscape, Lynch literally heard a wind blowing through the green branches he was painting. He then thought that he wanted to make moving paintings. I have heard similar stories from painters who turn from working with the still image and aim towards using a moving one.
Lynch’s initial mixed media painting, 6 MEN GETTING SICK 6 TIMES, includes plaster reliefs of 3 heads, with a film of graphic designs projected onto it. This work was not exactly what he meant by “moving painting”.
4 views of 6 MEN GETTING SICK 6 TIMES 1967
film projected onto painting with 3-D reliefs. Courtesy of the artist.
reliefs on David Lynch’s 6 Men Getting Sick 6 Times ©2014Lili White
This work was not exactly what he meant by “moving painting”. His “moving paintings” became his actual films. The earliest ones, THE ALPHABET and THE GRANDMOTHER, combined live action and animation techniques and were made in Philadelphia. He continued with ERASERHEAD in Los Angeles. Lynch doesn’t prefer making films over paintings; he just got a lot of “green lights” to continue making them.
David Lynch- Untitled early 1970s
Working in Hollywood on films like DUNE and THE ELEPHANT MAN, and later works LOST HIGHWAY, MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, BLUE VELVET & WILD AT HEART, (which was awarded the top prize at the Cannes Film Fest), feature a surreal underside of suburban America.
He wrote music, and in 2006, turned to shoot INLAND EMPIRE with an affordable video camera. Its lead, Laura Dern, conveys tortured performances of seemingly 2 different characters. This film was rendered ineligible for the Oscars by the Hollywood Industry, as David didn’t follow their rules…
What do we make of the world of dreams that take up space in his work?
Is Woman’s Dream a painting of his own dream, a dream of a dream, or the dream of a woman who told it to him? Or is the woman a figure of the “feminine principle” versus an actual human being that has dreamed? Such mystery is the charm of attempting to dissect a Lynch work; moving beyond their visual pleasure, we become immersed inside of this world.
Woman’s Dream 2013, Oil and mixed media on canvas, 66 x 66 in. Courtesy of the artist
Lynch calls himself a painter rather than an artist. When asked if he watches TV (his TWIN PEAKS introduced him to those raised in the 1990’s), he replied, “only when I travel and turn it on in the hotel. He continued, ”I’ll tell you what I saw the other day. I saw a man punch a woman in the head, and knock her out, and then drag her body across the floor.” (In case you missed this news item, this man was Ray Price the sports figure, not the singer with the same name of HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER). He seemed swallow back some anger as he told us this.
Lynch then mentioned his practice of Transcendental Meditation that leads you to a place of great happiness, and peace. He credits this practice with giving him access to THE UNIFIED FIELD (which was taken as a title for this show). Meditation presents a door that is there to go through, where thoughts pass thru your mind. Lynch “catches” the thoughts and uses them in his art.
“There is nothing but consciousness and it vibrates and the world is created from that; ideas are like gifts and if you desire an idea, it acts like a hook to catch it”.
He knows if the idea is either for a painting or a film — the materials come with the frame for that particular idea.
He recognizes that the paintings have something of a “short story”; they are felt before they become “framed” but these are not “story”— they are paintings.
“We are more aware of what lies below the surface, but I don’t try to expose it, I get below and fall in love with something of the idea, the interplay of opposites.”
His advice: find your own voice, and stay true to it and the ideas you find.
“Never turn down a good idea and always have final cut on any project— to not have that is absurd and absurdity w/a:i/s alive and well in Philadelphia,” he laughs.
Snagging us deeper into THE UNIFIED FIELD where we all exist, stimulates us into action and thought; as we want to “explain” it, or talk with others about it, it shakes off the malaise prevalent in today’s society, and it gives us great joy. — ©2014 Lili White
He Has His Tools and Chemicals 2013, ink on paper, 8 x 16 in.
Collection of Frank and Berta Gehry