When Darkness Doubles

Tilton Gallery, New York
Through April 14, 2012

Let's begin with this, from Les fleurs du mal: "Everything, even the color black/Seemed refurbished, bright, iridescent/The liquid encased in its glory/In the crystallized ray..."

Although better known as a filmmaker, David Lynch, who is exhibiting his paintings, collages and photographs at Tilton Gallery, has for years walked the fine line between art and entertainment. Like Julian Schnabel, though, Lynch's paintings occupy a separate terrain, and offer a rare opportunity to see into the psyche of a very private artist who also happens to be a very public figure.

Lynch has stated that "all my paintings are organic, violent comedies. They have to be violently done and primitive and crude, and to achieve that I try to let nature paint more than I paint. I wouldn't know what to do with color...to me it's too real. It's limiting. It doesn't allow too much of a dream. The more you throw black into [it] the more dreamy it gets.... Black has depth. It's like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you're afraid of. You start seeing what you love, and it becomes like a dream."

Lynch's films, from Eraserhead to The Elephant Man to Twin Peaks, have contained dream sequences which unite the internal narrative of the story and link together his movies through their use of this trope. In much the same way, Lynch's paintings function as windows into a dream world. Stark, primitive images, like those of Forrest Bess, are tied together with surrealist text or found objects, creating Exquisite Corpse compositions. He explains: "The words in the paintings are sometimes important to make you start thinking about what else is going on in there. And a lot of times, the words excite me as shapes, and something'll grow out of that. I used to cut these little letters out and glue them on. They just look good all lined up like teeth...sometimes they become the title of the painting."

"Going to Visit UR House" (2008-09), a watercolor, gives us the rows of text teeth, narrating a non-story of sorts, of a figure gazing out into an empty landscape. "Boy Lights Fire" (2011 [above]) mines a similar vein in a surreal, collage-like structure. A figure with extruded arms holds little lights, like a strand from a Christmas tree. The picture is composed of three panels, with the text tying the composition together. We don't get resolution, but rather, as in his films, bits of a story which we finish in our own minds. The more recent works, such as "Truck Lifts Rock by Tower" (2012) and "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" (2012), reduce the pictorial structure to a sparse, childlike scrawl. In the hands of a lesser artist this might seem a coy ploy for authenticity; in Lynch's capable hands, though, the creep factor just rises. - Bradley Rubenstein

David Lynch, Boy Lights Fire, 2011, mixed media on cardboard, 82 x 130 inches. Courtesy Tilton Gallery, New York.

Tilton Gallery is at 8 East 76th Street in New York, New York.

domMr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.