Thursday, June 1, 2017

David Lynch at work in his studio

You could devote a considerable part of a lifetime trying to understand David Lynch, the artist and director whose cinematic creations include Eraser Head, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Lynch's movies are known for their alluring beauty, alarming images, and cryptic layers that seem to seep from Lynch's unfiltered subconscious. The new documentary -- David Lynch: An Art Life -- may not answer every question you might raise about Lynch, who's now 71. But the movie shows how Lynch spends much of his time in Los Angeles. Shot mostly in Lynch's studio, the film finds Lynch at work on various paintings while he talks about his life in revealing chunks selected from interviews conducted by the filmmakers. Directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm offer glimpses of Lynch's work, supplementing views of art with personal material from the Lynch family album. So if you want to watch Lynch smoke cigarettes, apply paint and affix various substances to canvases, this might be your only chance. And, of course, everything the directors show is set against Lynch's homespun affect, which -- despite his constant cigarette smoking -- has a small-town quality that seems instantly at odds with the images that spring from his mind. At times, you'll think that you understand the origin of this or that theme or even a specific image from Lynch's film work. But The Art Life spends relatively little time on Lynch's filmography, opting instead for the quiet of a cluttered studio. In a review of a 2014 Philadelphia show of Lynch's paintings, New York Times art critic Ken Johnson posed a relevant question. Is Lynch's work on canvas as compelling as his work in film. Johnson voted "no," and I'm inclined to agree, although Lynch himself makes no claims to any special status in the art world. Still, the documentary's title and its views of Lynch at work suggest the kind of absorption in the moment of creation that might just define Lynch's deepest pleasure and his keenest aspiration.

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