David Lynch: The Art Life

by Toby Woollaston

dlHe is a man blessed with a wild imagination and great hair (his cranial embellishments second only to his kissing-cousin Jim Jarmusch).  An iconic film-maker that has given us enigmatic worlds of fractured logic and narrative ambiguity hearkening back to the surrealists of the early twentieth century (Luis Buñuel, Germaine Dulac, Salvador Dali, et al.).  Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet are just a few of his filmic canon that any cinephile should wax lyrical about … but less is known about David Lynch’s formative years as an artist.

The Art Life acquaints us with the age old conundrum of nurture versus nature, life imitating art or art imitating life, and begins with Lynch declaring; “Every time you do something like a painting, you go with ideas, and sometimes the past can conjure those ideas … even if they’re new ideas the past colours them.”  Documentarian Jon Nguyen uses this assertion as the starting point for his exposé on an artist who belies the dark and sometimes violent nature of his work.

The brooding cinematography of Nguyen’s camera oozes slow tracks and zooms that creep and crawl around Lynch’s tranquil home studio, observing the artist at work, and at times glimpsing the surreal fruits of his labour. We never leave his studio, save for archival footage — it’s a chamber piece that illuminates Lynch’s world of introspection. He explains, “My world was no bigger than a couple of blocks … huge worlds are in those two blocks”. Indeed, for Lynch the devil is in the detail, and here the details are small moments captured with cosmic meaning courtesy of one artist’s solitary mind.

The documentary rummages through the trash of Lynch’s life in a vain effort to find horrific peculiarities and anecdotes that might explain his art’s seemingly dark world.  But in true Lynchian style, conventions and expectations are turned on their head. Instead we are met with stories of house-hold spats, family politics and teenage angst — he is a product of middle America and his upbringing is surprisingly unremarkable. But it presents a striking contrast to his art, and this dichotomy perfectly sums up the enigma that is David Lynch.

Spanning up to where his film career took off, David Lynch: The Art Life is essential viewing for any Lynch fan, but equally rewarding for those simply interested in seeing an iconic artist at work.

You can see my published reviews here.