Largest David Lynch retrospective to date on show in Maastricht

The director's little-known work as an artist focuses on similarly eerie themes as his films do. The Dutch retrospective of Lynch's art, "Someone is in my house," takes visitors to the dark side of the American Dream.

Most people associate the name David Lynch with bizarre movies that dive deeper into the subconscious than many might be comfortable with. Award-winning films like Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet or the cult TV series Twin Peaks have become synonymous with the director, epitomizing his unmistakably disturbing style exploring what lurks underneath the surface of American society.

Still David Lynch is not only a film director but also an accomplished artist, whose paintings, sketches, sculptures, photographs, video installations and mixed media works have been shown around the world.

The Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht now brings Lynch's work as an artist to The Netherlands for the first time. The works shown at the exhibition "David Lynch: Someone is in my house" span from Lynch's childhood in the 1950s to his most recent work from 2018.

It is the world's largest Lynch retrospective to date, points out museum director and curator Stijn Huijts, adding that the lesser-known aspect of the filmmaker's career has accompanied him throughout his life: "He has always been a painter. He started at an arts school in Philadelphia and ever since he has continued his practice as a visual artist. In fact, he has spent most of his life doing visual art, more so than doing films." 

Bleeding heads, mutilated bodies and sexual violence: the Bonnefantenmuseum show is certainly not for the faint of heart

A walk on the dark side

Walking into the exhibition feels quite like entering one of Lynch's acclaimed screen works — despite Huijts' insistence on regarding Lynch primarily as a visual artist for the purpose of this show. An overall sense of darkness dominates not only the hundreds of Lynch's works on show, but also the special design of the 15 galleries of the exhibition.

"Being in darkness and confusion is interesting to me. But behind it you can rise out of that and see things the way they really are. That there is some sort of truth to the whole thing, if you could just get to that point where you could see it, and live it, and feel it," David Lynch once said of his work.

This darkness plays with the visitors' minds: You will constantly wonder whether you're brave or curious enough to allow the pieces of art to enter your consciousness as Lynch intends. It is clear that his art is meant to challenge its viewers to confront their inner demons, with recurrent themes like sexuality, destruction, violence and decay standing in stark contrast to Lynch's often childlike style and use of imagery.

Some of Lynch's works feature phrases, which he says add additional layers to his art

'Someone is in my house'

The youthful imagery of his works often appears to trivialize or dismiss the weight of the terror it depicts. At the same time it feels like a public appeal to embrace all the ugly, painful and downright abysmal aspects of the human condition. The art seen at the exhibition is certainly not pretty by most standards, but it is beautiful in its capacity to reach out to a deep place within each visitor.

This profound journey through the third floor of the Bonnefantenmuseum is accompanied by peculiar sounds wherever you go — whether coming from sonic art installations or the soundtracks of short films shown at the exhibition. The overall experience is immersive on multiple levels and takes visitors exactly to the kinds of strange places that they will be familiar with from Lynch's movies.

While Lynch fans always have the comfort of knowing that they are merely viewers when they watch his movies, visiting the exhibition in Maastricht, they actually become protagonists in this Lynchian world. They will leave the exhibition realizing that they were the actual intruders referred to in the eerie title of the show, "Someone is in my house."

Related Subjects

Though Lynch insists that he is apolitical, his works often reflect politically loaded topics, such as gun culture in the US

Deconstructing America

Indeed, one of the many recurrent themes or metaphors seen in Lynch's art is houses — another fact that the title of the exhibition picks up on. Both in his work as a director and as a visual artist, David Lynch enjoys shining light on things that happen behind closed doors in residences of all kinds. In fact, the kind of building he chooses often communicates something about the message of a particular scene in a movie or, in this case, the intention behind a work of art.

Curator Stijn Huijts stresses that David Lynch is first and foremost a visual artist

Often set in US suburbia, Lynch's imagery exalts and simultaneously demystifies Americana. The people depicted in his paintings, sketches and photographs look like fallen angels and failed heroes. They have names like Bob, Billy and George etched into the canvasses, adding further layers of humanity to Lynch's surreal tragedies. Short texts and phrases endow them with a story; one that typically makes the already twisted and deformed expressionistic characters appear even further removed from reality.

"The phrases give birth to a whole reality and world," Lynch says about these works. He remains a storyteller, even as a visual artist.

Read more: Director David Lynch unveils his art at Surrealist museum

Entering the dream world

The dreamlike effect of Lynch's art can be felt without having watched the cult TV series Twin Peaks (photo)

The installation right by the entrance of the museum perfectly encapsulates his work as both a director and a visual artist. David Lynch fans will recognize this dreamlike "Red Room" — also known as the "Waiting Room" — from his Twin Peaks television series: Towering red velvet curtains float just above the floor, where a black-and-white zigzag pattern dizzies visitors into a state of frenzy — if you stay there long enough.

In the background, a looped soundtrack from the TV series communicates distress and comfort at the same time. The music and the pattern on the floor complement each other, transporting the visitor to another realm, with these opposites creating a strange dream world.

Perhaps this room is a metaphor for the interwoven nature of all juxtaposed things in life, which is something that David Lynch tries to convey in all his works: black and white, day and night, good and evil, fear and love, yin and yang — and even film and art.

"David Lynch: Someone is my House" runs from November 30, 2018 through April 28, 2019. 

The English language catalog was published by Prestel Publishing.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

David Lynch: the master magician of the screen

The 1980s and 90s belonged to David Lynch, the successful American film director whose widely influential movies peaked during those decades. Despite his unusual style and the strange worlds in his movies, Lynch became a household name in the US and beyond. The inimitable mixture of surrealism and expressionism on the big screen drilled holes deep into the subconscious of the films' viewers.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Eraserhead': a shocking debut

Lynch made his cinematic debut in 1977 with his first feature film, "Eraserhead." A horror film with a soft touch, the movie was a low-budget production for which the money came directly out of Lynch's pocket. A surprising success, "Eraserhead" (featuring Jack Nance, picture here) made the American director world-famous. The movie enjoys a cult following to this day.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Elephant Man': sympathy for humanity

Three years later, Lynch took to the big screen to showcase his gift for dealing with abstract subject matters again with "The Elephant Man." The film is regarded as a sympathetic study in humanity that evokes a wide range of feelings in its viewers. The black-and-white movie tells the true story of Joseph Merrick, a man living with a genetic facial deformity in 19th-century London.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Dune': a financial disaster

The sci-fi flick "Dune" is regarded as Lynch's singular misstep. Released in 1984, the high-budget film caved in under the combined weight of art and expectations of commercial success. Although many of the film's scenes remain fascinating even today, for the audience at the time of its release, "Dune" proved to be a bit too awkward.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Blue Velvet': a masterpiece

The gripping story of college student Jeffrey Beaumont as told in the movie "Blue Velvet" is perhaps one of Lynch's best-known works. With a minimal budget, the mysterious story featuring previously overlooked actors Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini as its protagonists took David Lynch's directing to the next level. It is a stylistic masterpiece that wowed moviegoers then as it does now.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Wild at Heart': Golden Palm in Cannes

In 1990, David Lynch was at the height of his career when he released his fifth feature film, "Wild at Heart." The movie is a potent mix of genre elements as it tells the melodramatic story of a couple on the run. Although Lynch bagged a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for the film not all critics were sold, with some calling certain scenes too brutal and speculative.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Twin Peaks': Lynch's revolution is televised

The end of the 1980s saw Lynch take his talents to the small screen as well, as he made his television debut with the cult series, "Twin Peaks." Before long, people around the world were wondering "Who killed Laura Palmer?" (played by Sheryl Lee, pictured at center). The series proved a huge success on television and is still seen by many as the forerunner for today's bingeworthy TV shows.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Lost Highway': taking the plunge into the unknown

As Lynch began to dabble in transcendental meditation, his films also started to delve deeper into the depths of the human psyche. "Lost Highway" was the first of three movies ("Mulholland Drive" and "Inland Empire" followed) taking viewers on a gloomy, cinematic journey into the subconscious. The 1997 film is a complex undertaking that many film buffs still have difficulty following.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'The Straight Story': an unexpected surprise

"The Straight Story" surprised both critics and the viewing public alike when it was released in 1999. The most atypical Lynch film to date, the slow story follows a farmer as he makes his way through the United States atop a lawn mower. The movie that was well received for its humane warmth and moments of quiet humor.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

'Twin Peaks: The Return': 25 years later

Fans of "Twin Peaks" waited for a quarter of a century to return to the Pacific Northwest town of village, when Lynch surprised them by announcing that another season would be released in 2016. With some extraordinary visual sequences dotted around, "Twin Peaks: The Return" is seen as a televised work of art. Like the original series, the 2016 production ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

Lynch, the visual artist

Many people don't realize that Lynch is first and foremost a visual artist. He studied Fine Arts and has produced a great body of mixed material works, photographs and sketches. Whether people "like" his work or not, they can't deny that - like his films - they are impossible to ignore. Many feature images of strangely contorted humans with twisted limbs, as well as red dogs and scary houses.

David Lynch: a life in surrealism

David Lynch: jack of all trades

As the well-known face of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) community, Lynch travels around the US for public appearances dealing with meditation. His art has likewise attracted great attention at exhibitions around the world. In his private life, Lynch claims that he lives as a recluse. However, that is a bit hard to imagine for someone who lives in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.

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