“Lynch is also known as a filmmaker” states the catalogue for David Lynch‘s new art exhibition My Head Is Disconnected at HOME in Manchester, which is hopefully a knowing comment rather than a serious relegation of his cinematic work on the basis that people coming along to check out this exhibit might somehow have never heard of his movies (and TV shows, which we’ll count as movies for the purposes of this discussion) or perhaps consider them a minor part of his career. Certainly, Lynch is about more than just the films – he’s an accomplished musician and, more importantly in the context of this show, he began his creative career as an artist and animator. While most of the pieces here are from the 2000’s, we should not take this as the work of a dilettante film director indulging himself – Lynch has continued to produced art throughout his better-known career – his Angriest Dog in the World cartoon series being perhaps the best known – and if this work has increasing in the last twenty years, it’s simply because Lynch generally began to move away from filmmaking as his opportunities for creative control were increasingly diminished by a film business dominated by vacuous juvenile franchises. In short – Lynch’s art is as important and valid a part of his career as any, even if it is not as well known to the general public.
HOME’s exhibition is the first major UK collection of Lynch’s art, which is primarily split between two styles – small, unsettlingly weird black and white watercolours and large, mixed-media paintings that literally erupt from the canvas with colour and assorted organic and created additions that give a nightmarish quality to much of the work. I preferred these large scale pieces; Mrs Reprobate was more taken with the smaller works. The art is split across four sections – City On Fire, which explores the environments that surround us, Nothing Here, which probes the inner space of the mind, Industrial Empire – the only section to include older work, Lynch’s industrial matchbook sketches from the early 1970s alongside his more recent lamp sculptures – and Bedtime Stories, nightmare narratives about childhood horrors. In truth, there’s overlap across the sections, as you might expect from work that wasn’t necessarily made to fit into a grander theme beyond that of coming from the same mind and same obsessions.
These are striking works, and very much a part of what we take as being ‘Lynchian’. The more surreal, nightmarish or downright weird moments of unexplainable strangeness that are scattered throughout Lynch’s films, the curious dialogue from strange characters and even the familiar names – ‘Bob’ is used a lot – all find a place and a meaning here. These static images, with titles like Who Is Outside My House My Dog Is Running Away. They Come In Thru My T.V. Where Is My Dog or Oh… I Said A Bad Thing almost feel more overtly coherent than his films, where Lynch is famously reluctant to offer explanations for the stranger moments. But only almost. This is still work that allows you to explore, interpret and engage with on a very personal level. What you and I take from this work might be very different things, and that’s how it should be. Who needs more artwork of any form that spoon-feeds the audience? And none of this feels contrived – like the films, it’s pure and honest from an artist who has a vision that is somewhat removed from the norm, rather than someone trying to be deliberately obscure or difficult in order to impress a hipster audience. Instead, this art offers an alternative glimpse inside Lynch’s head and perhaps helps to understand his creative work on a broader level.
It should be pointed out that this is not a large exhibition – certainly not if you compere it to the (admittedly very different) Kubrick show at the Design Museum. It’s strictly an art exhibition and even if you take your time and peer at everything in depth, you’ll be done well within a hour. If you are travelling any distance for this, you probably need to be aware of that in advance or it might feel like a bit of a let down. Of course, this is a free exhibition, and the chances of that happening at a major London space are practically zero. There are, of course, music performances (all now sold out) and film screenings accompanying this for those of you looking to make a day of it – and the Manchester International Festival, of which this is a part, is certainly worth checking out as a whole.