Between Two Worlds: David Lynch at GoMA, Brisbane
Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Do you remember watching the twenty-nine episodes of “Twin Peaks” on TV, back in 1990-91? Do you remember the unsettling feeling, the mystery and fascination – followed by the absolute compulsion to tune in next week? Everybody was talking about it. The combination of David Lynch’s ideas, visuals and the soundscapes of composer, Angelo Badalamenti gave us one of the most memorable experiences television has ever broadcast. Each week it left us wondering about strange rooms, peculiar people and curtained doorways into the unknown – and, how many days until the next episode?
What about his feature films? Many who didn’t know him before, researched the writer/director – David Lynch. His name became famous even amongst non-film buffs.
His work for the big screen has also been unforgettable, penetrating into a hidden, dark place in our unconscious — giving us a tantalizing glimpse of darkened, mysterious parts of ourselves, where we would not have ever dared to explore. “Eraserhead”, “Elephant Man”, “Blue Velvet”, “Mulholland Drive”, “Wild at Heart”, are but a few of them.
Do you remember the Academy Awards broadcast of 2002 when “Mulholland Drive” was nominated? There were so many comments from the host, jibes and jokes, about the difficulty of understanding the film. Hollywood’s establishment had come up against their nemesis – a brilliant film-maker whom they recognized as such, but didn’t quite follow. Lynch was far ahead, in the distance, exploring hitherto undiscovered regions of the cinematic landscape and possibilities.
On 14 March 2015 an exhibition of the work of David Lynch the fine arts practitioner, opened at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, and will run until 7th June 2015.
David himself, jetlagged, but in fine form attended the opening, and the following morning gave a 90 minute personal interview with Jose da Silva, the curator of this rich and wonderful exhibition of Lynch’s work, paintings, drawings, installations, video, prints, and photographs. David Lynch is an intrepid explorer and creator in an area where mind, mystery and matter meet and the show is aptly entitled, “Between Two Worlds”.
He spoke about his early life as a student, in the mid sixties, his underwhelming experience at the Boston Art School, where he said the students were not serious about painting, so he moved on to and then had a quite opposite experience at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.
“I was still searching and experimenting and I did not have an original thought, until I was at Philadelphia Art School. There I found out that I liked the combination of women and machines, at that time.”
He went onto describe the powerful effect on him, of seeing an exhibition by Francis Bacon. “The way he did flesh – perfection!”
Lynch says, “I did a lot of drawing but not much painting. I didn’t really understand that when you became a grown-up you could become an artist.” His own father was a scientist.
“Then I met a friend, who told me that his father was a full-time artist, which was a concept that amazed me. When I met his father, (Bushnell Keeler) he turned me on to the book “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri (1923). While at art school, David had a studio adjoining Keeler’s own workspace.
David Lynch did not complete his study at Philadelphia’s Art School because of several things, he explained – “I like to make work (rather than studying), my girlfriend was pregnant, and I got a grant from the AFI (American Film Institute), which was a huge blessing.”
“I began to experience the flow of ideas. Sometimes you have a complete idea. Other times, it’s action and reaction. It is a thrilling thing to think about. I make a mark, look at it, make another mark, look again, a third mark, then suddenly with a fourth mark, an idea comes which unites the previous three! With his film-making as well as his fine-art work, David lets his ideas show him the way.
“I think ideas are the most important things, and they are gifts. Fate plays a huge role in our lives too. You can have talent but if you don’t get a “green light”, you are fresh out of luck.”
“But, don’t be afraid of another part of it – destroying. Sometimes from that all kinds of good things can come,” he adds.
Sometimes he leaves his paintings out in the rain – for days on end. “I like nature helping me,” he said, grinning.
David spoke of his practice: “As soon as you start working in a medium, it begins to talk to you. Ideas come. I like all kinds of media – acrylics, oils, printing, video, but perhaps most of all I love oil paints- – so organic.”
He also mentioned how much he loves working with sound, and that cinema is actually sound and image.
When an audience member asked about keeping control of a project when making a film, David emphatically declared: “This question should never even be asked. He quoted the saying “Keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole.” He says that no film-maker should ever let them self end up in a position where they don’t have full control, and final cut. He commented that here are so many rules and regulations today, and that making a film is very, very expensive, but a lot of that money is not up on the screen because of the rules and regulations.
“Nobody should ever make something without total control and final cut. Think of a painter. No one interferes with a painter. Cinema should be the same. Otherwise, why do it? It’s a heartache and an absurdity.”
“Once I sold out in that way, (with “Dune”,(1984) and I died twice. The film was not a success, and within myself I died because I sold out.
On the subject of digital cinema, Lynch was enthusiastic about how the digital technology offers many new options – lightness, speed, and a change in working methodology. It’s a beautiful thing he said, but he also added that there is nothing quite as beautiful as motion recorded on celluloid.
Speaking about his commitment to Transcendental Meditation, he became even more passionate and eloquent than when speaking about art and cinema. He said, “It serves the work and serves the life.”
He explained about the inherent beauty of all human beings, no matter where their location or what their colour. There exists a field of absolute totality, that every person also contains within. It has always been there and will be there forever. However, most people are living on the surface. “Transcend is the key-word, said David Lynch. “From the time a human being transcends he begins to live an aware life. It is a thing that is missing from today’s life.”
He elaborated by saying many people who are ‘living on the surface’ don’t enjoy every moment of life, or work, but only enjoy the fruit of their work (the money earned). He advised that we should infuse all that we do with energy from the field of eternal consciousness available to us all, through transcendental meditation practice. This would enable even a toilet cleaner to do their work in a meaningful way and gain reward and satisfaction.
About the matter of Time: David said, “Time is slippery. It can go back, forward, and yet all time is there at the same time. It is a really interesting thing to think about. It is like cinema, in that it can be in any (chronological) order.”
Lynch is disappointed at the trends of modern day cinema.
“There are all year round block-busters monopolizing the big screen, and rarely do those screens show mid-budget or independent films. Those are going to film festivals and to the internet. “It is a huge sadness,” he said. And he is not happy about people watching films intended for the big screen, on their mobile phones, but at the same time, he observed that people can now have big screen televisions and good sound systems in their homes, so cable TV, and downloading has become the new “Art-House”.
However, Lynch stressed that he treasures the cinematic experience, where the lights go down, and there are no interruptions, and a film is seen as it is meant to be seen – on the big screen as a shared experience.
(Text copyright March 2015 by Cynthia Webb