David Lynch: Naming

By
Peter Yeung
Image © David Lynch, TV BBQ, 2009. Watercolour. Courtesy of the artist and Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles.

David Lynch, director of eye-poppingly eerie masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and Lost Highway, was for a long time known for little other than his sinister, brooding cinematic visions. There was the dancing dwarf in Twin Peaks, the blood-curdling cowboy in Mulholland Drive, and, of course, the infamous severed ear crawling with ants discovered by Jeffrey Beaumont at the beginning of Blue Velvet. This slew of brilliant releases led The Guardian to describe Lynch as "the most important director of this era."

The force of his imagery and dream logic is so powerful that the iconic director’s name was even eventually coined into a noun. The late writer David Foster Wallace defined the word “Lynchian” as denoting “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” What Lynch conveyed so strikingly in his films was the menace and surrealism found in the banality of America’s supposedly idyllic, middle-class suburbia.

Image © David Lynch, Untitled (Los Angeles), 1979. Archival print Courtesy the artist and Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles.

But then, in 2007, Lynch shocked everyone with an unexpected revelation. "I'm through with film as a medium," he wrote in a book. "For me, film is dead." The Montana-born director’s rapturous, cult following went into mourning. The end of an era. That is, until earlier this year, when the return of Twin Peaks – the Charles Manson of cult viewing – was announced, and after confirmation that David Lynch was to direct the series, the internet was officially “broken.”

To mark that delirious return, there will be an exhibition at Middlesbrough’s very own Museum of Modern Art, which traces how Lynch uses the concept of “naming” in a vast array of mediums: film, photography, drawings, watercolours, painting and prints from 1968 to the present. Those who don’t already know of Lynch’s multidisciplinarity, they surely will now (that’s without even mentioning his foray into music-making that proved a hit in Ibiza, the creation of a nightclub in Paris, and Lynch’s evangelism when it comes to Transcendental Meditation). 

Image © David Lynch, Dog, 2012. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles.

Lynch was born in Missoula, Montana in 1946, and had a nomadic upbringing, following his father's job as a research scientist around North America. But what is often overlooked, is that he studied painting at the Boston Museum School and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. These diverse skills are on show at mima: from Lynch’s enigmatic, surreal watercolours, to a short film about a nightmare that he made as a student, called The Alphabet.

This is Lynch’s second prominent exhibition in the UK this year, following the display of his monochrome factory photographs at London’s Photographers’ Gallery. But David Lynch: Naming, offers a new insight into the artist’s unusual use of images and text. It explores the deeper meaning of how language operates in the psyche, and will undoubtedly douse the flames of critics who look at Lynch through the psycho-sexual prism of Freud and Lacan.

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