David Lynch Returns to his Artist Roots in a Dark, Twisted Solo Show

Though known primarily as an adventurous filmmaker, David Lynch initially wanted to be a painter. One day, while a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a painting he was working on seemed to move. Though the vision was purely imagined, Lynch has since credited it with sparking his interest in the moving image as an art form.

Since then, his movies and TV shows, including uncanny looks at suburbia in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, have won the director critical acclaim, yet he never left behind his passion for visual art. Now, for At The Gallery in Antwerp, the new solo show “It was like dancing with a ghost” puts his wide-ranging artistic practice on display, from ghostly photographic works to expressionistic paintings.

As movie fans can attest, Lynch’s distinct visual style is attuned to all things creepy, ghastly, and unnerving. Similarly, his art flirts with the surreal, particularly in his “Distorted Nudes” series, which uses digital technology to morph vintage photographs of nude women into monstrous creatures. Heads are removed, legs extended, and bones made to jut out of bulbous sacks of flesh.

His paintings continue this foray into the dark and twisted. Many are like macabre cartoons, with characters involved in situations menacing yet absurd. Mighty Mouse and Spider (2012) finds a Mickey Mouse–like figure disappearing beneath an ominous black cloud. In another, a man shoves a blackish blob—perhaps another man or some sort of creature—into his gaping mouth; beneath him read the words “oh...I said a BAD thing.” The violence and drab palette balance out any hint of comic-strip humor.

While the artworks on display call upon a variety of diverse artistic styles, his “Couch Series” photographs come closest to the traditionally Lynchian aesthetic. One could almost imagine these double-exposed images as outtakes from Mulholland Dr. or Inland Empire. In each, a female body lie in a variety of positions on a large, modernist sofa. The multiple exposures cloak the woman’s face and identity. Instead, the viewer is left with a many-limbed mess of flesh that seems caught between materializing and disappearing. As in the best of Lynch’s work, whether fine art or film, their oddly alluring beauty casts a mesmerizing spell.


—A. Wagner


David Lynch: It was like dancing with a ghost” is on view at At The Gallery, Antwerp, May 21–Jul. 3, 2016.

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