Since the return of DAVID LYNCH’s sublimely surreal TV serial Twin Peaks in 2017, the director has become almost omnipresent. Once the most niche of filmmakers, his now grey and wrinkled faced appears to be lurking around the corners where you least expect him, like the ghoul behind the diner in his own Mulholland. Dr. His face flickers silently in the wind from lamppost mounted flags across Manchester this summer as his first major UK show of art, photography and sculpture continues at HOME. Entitled My Head Is Disconnected, the work on display could be the glue that holds together many of the mysteries of Lynch’s canon of creativity, one that also includes music, acting, online masterclasses and the promotion of transcendental meditation via his own David Lynch Foundation.
As his epic 2018 autobiography, Room To Dream, and the 2016 documentary David Lynch The Art Life illustrate, Lynch was an artist way before he was a filmmaker. Studying art at The Boston Museum School and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Lynch honed his craft, working dark unidentifiable materials into pitch black scenarios, issuing series of pencil drawings, watercolours and lithographs with recurring motifs and characters, ultimately providing a unique palate for his filmmaking odyssey.
Works like his career changing Six Men Getting Sick (1967), a marriage of sculpture, painting and projected image, saw the step towards moving image that would lead to his films, The Alphabet, The Grandmother and his first iconic feature, Eraserhead, in 1977.
Watching footage of Lynch at work is a hypnotic delight as he works his fingers into the material, pushing, tearing, rubbing and smearing to create startling and often terrifying images. In a parallel to his film works, the art can be hilarious too.
Having immersed myself in Lynch’s work for my entire adult life, the news of an exhibition of this scale was just about too good to be true, and the anticipation of standing face to face with this work feels almost as overwhelming as meeting the man himself. Being informed there is no cloakroom as I stand soaked to the skin having traipsed through a torrent of rain on the greyest of Manchester mornings, much like Henry Spencer as he returns home at the start of Eraserhead, this provides an already-off kilter approach to my much anticipated visit.
Dispersed across four zones, City Of Fire provides the first space. A collection of early millennial works that depict deep forests, burning houses and recurring characters. Bob Finds Himself In A World For Which He Has No Understanding (2000) sets the scene in its vast forest-scape. The themes are very Twin Peaks, even the name Bob recalls the supernatural villain of the series. The Bob in the painting is a figure that looks like he could be made of excrement but with a singular baby doll arm. Boy Lights Fire (2010) and Bob’s Second Dream are similar affairs but incorporate ignited light bulbs to startling and warm effect. The breathtaking Suddenly My House Became A Tree Of Sores (1990) is also included here.
The Collection entitled Nothing Here follows Bob with That Will Do It Bob (2008/9) and includes more excrement-like figures in almost childlike scenarios. The titles often sound like the sort of thing an all-American 1950s child would say to his parents after returning from a backyard adventure, with particular note of Oh I Saw A Bad Thing (2009) and “(The day) the dog went out and did bite a chicken” from 2011’s Woman’s Head. The sense of romanticised adventure mixed with spinetingling, encroaching danger is palpable.
Much of the work reflects Lynch’s films, like Head On Stage (2010) and Hall Of Thought (2009/10) which recall Eraserhead’s severed head and mutant baby. Man And Machine (2009) looks like a production sketch from Twin Peaks The Return.
Industrial Empire mixes crayon drawings of factories, both grounded and hovering in Bob’s Anti-Gravity Factory (2000) with Lynch’s collection of hand-crafted lamps (some made from treated tree branches) and a collection of intricate drawings on matchbooks from the early 70s, the earliest work on show.
The final section, Bedtime Stories, is a recent collection of nightmare images centering around the characters of Billy, Sally and Ricky, an extension of the backyard gang, now fully grown. Ricky Finds Out He Has Shit For Brains (2017) uses Lynch’s mysterious brown materials for literal effect while I Was A Teenage Insect (2018) includes even more questionable textures emanating from the character’s shorts.
These final images are vibrant, multi-media and three dimensional and are often unashamedly as hilarious as they are terrifying. Billy And His Friends Did Find Sally In A Tree (2018) is a prime example of this and has as much drama as a full-length feature film.
This rare display is essential for all fans of Lynch offering a sideways introduction to the dark mind of one of our greatest living artists.