Book Review: David Lynch’s Visual Art Gets a Dark Spotlight In “Someone Is In My House”

Book Review: David Lynch’s Visual Art Gets a Dark Spotlight In “Someone Is In My House”

You probably don’t think of David Lynch as a painter, and that is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Such is the message of the weirdly defensive essays that open Someone Is In My House, a new coffee-table volume of Lynch’s visual art.

“Given the popularity of Lynch’s films in the art community,” writes Stijn Huijts in a preface, “it is astonishing that his work as a visual artist has until now been rarely explored.” It’s a downright “unjust situation.”

“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” writes Michael Chabon, quoting George Orwell in another essay, “needs a constant struggle. Think about that. To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

I’m thinking! I’m thinking! Contributions by Petra Giloy-Hirtz and Kristine McKenna are more concrete, hence more useful, but no one is really going to be able to explain David Lynch, and they know it. How did a baby boomer from a seemingly ordinary childhood come to fixate so consistently on an emotional underbelly so dark, it regularly requires recourse to the supernatural?

While Someone — created to accompany a current exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum in the Netherlands — will help fans appreciate the fact that Lynch’s art began with drawings and has constantly returned to the canvas, the generous selection of Lynch’s many paintings, photographs, and other inventions won’t necessarily leave you convinced that the gallery is his worthiest venue.

Lynch’s most powerful work for film and TV trades on moving pictures’ capacity to stoke a sense of empathy and normalcy. Whether we’re watching Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, we’re seduced by the premise that these are people we understand, characters who obey the same laws of physical and emotional gravity we do. Then, the bottom falls out.

With rare exceptions like a series of stark snowman photos (as you’d expect, Lynch knows how to capture the listing figures at their most grotesque), the work compiled here largely captures moments that are well below the long-gone bottom. Francis Bacon is a lodestar, and Lynch’s work is filled with figures whose own bodies are betraying them, leaking corpus across the canvas.

Lynch’s restlessness in media is apparent, and impressive: he summons his dark visions in ink, in oil, in watercolor, and when need be in Sculpey modeling clay. By the time you close the cover of Someone, you’ll see key scenes from Lynch’s filmography as, in effect, animated paintings. He’s a filmmaker of tremendous patience, and this collection suggests he learned that patience on the canvas.

Virtually all is suffused with a sense of the dark (often literally), the tortured, the surreal, the lonely. Moments of humor, because isolated to particular pieces, aren’t as effective as they are in Lynch’s sometimes very funny films.

His art tends to work best when he captures a moment of cataclysmic motion: the fire in Factory at Night with Nude (the nude, who might be gushing blood from the stump of an arm, has more to worry about than activating the sprinkler system); the pistol in Pete Goes to His Girlfriend’s House, stretching the eponymous offender’s arm as it races ahead of him towards a helpless victim; the escaping spirit (it’s helpfully labeled) in This Man Was Shot 0.9502 Seconds Ago.

There’s much more in this well-proportioned 304-page collection, certainly an essential item for the Lynch devotee in your life. For example, we see Lynch’s fascination with the organic shapes of decaying industrial architecture, and with organisms obliterated by industrial forces. We see some lamps that look as though they’d do nicely for bedtime reading at the Black Lodge.

In sum, we perhaps see here in its purest form what David Lynch sees when he closes his eyes. It’s not a pretty picture.

Jay Gabler