“The Art of David Lynch”— How Rene Magritte, Edward Hopper & Francis Bacon Influenced David Lynch’s Cinematic Vision

When an artist becomes an adjective—think Orwellian, Kafkaesque, or Joycean—one of two things can hap­pen: their work can be super­fi­cial­ly appro­pri­at­ed, reduced to a col­lec­tion of obvi­ous ges­tures clum­si­ly com­bined in bad pas­tiche. Or their dis­tinc­tive style can inspire artists with more skill and depth to make orig­i­nal cre­ations that may them­selves become touch­stones for the future. What might dis­tin­guish one from the oth­er is the degree to which we under­stand not only the work of Orwell, Kaf­ka, or Joyce, but also the work that influ­enced them.

When it comes to David Lynch, there’s no doubt that the “Lynchi­an” stands as a mod­el for so much con­tem­po­rary film and tele­vi­sion. But while some direc­tors make excel­lent use of Lynch’s influ­ence, oth­ers strive for Lynchi­an atmos­phere only to reach a kind of unin­spired, unin­ten­tion­al par­o­dy. The sub­lime bal­ance of humor and hor­ror Lynch has achieved over the course of his extra­or­di­nary career seems like the kind of thing one shouldn’t attempt with­out seri­ous study and prepa­ra­tion.

With­out Lynch’s sur­re­al­ist vision, odd­ball char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and dia­logue fall flat—as in Twin Peaks’ sec­ond sea­son, which Lynch him­self says “sucked.” So what defines the Lynchi­an? A very dis­tinc­tive use of music, for one thing. And as the video essay above by Men­no Koois­tra demon­strates, the sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence of paint­ing. Lynch him­self began paint­ing and draw­ing at a young age and stud­ied art at the School of the Muse­um of Fine Arts in Boston in the six­ties. While he found his call­ing in film, his art edu­ca­tion pre­pared him to dream up the unfor­get­table com­po­si­tions of the Lynchi­an world.

Rene Magritte, Edward Hop­per, Arnold Böck­lin, and the mas­ter of psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror, Fran­cis Bacon—all of these painters have direct­ly informed Lynch’s night­mar­ish mise-en-scène. As you’ll see in Kooistra’s video, in side by side com­par­isons, Lynch adapts the work of his favorite artists for his own pur­pos­es. In an inter­view clip, he says he dis­cov­ered Bacon at a gallery in 1966 and found the expe­ri­ence “thrilling”—later using the painter’s work as inspi­ra­tion for The Ele­phant Man and Twin Peak’s dis­ori­ent­ing Red Room.

We see Lynch’s homage to his favorite painters in Eraser­head and Blue Vel­vet, as well as the cur­rent, third sea­son of Twin Peaks, over which he has (as he well should) com­plete cre­ative con­trol. You may not find Fran­cis Bacon’s dis­turb­ing por­traits quite as thrilling as Lynch does, or draw on Edward Hop­per for a warped ver­sion of 1950’s Amer­i­cana. These are Lynch’s ref­er­ences; they res­onate on his par­tic­u­lar fre­quen­cy, and hence pro­vide him with visu­al frames for his own per­son­al dream log­ic.

But what we might take away from “The Art of David Lynch” is that the Lynchi­an is nec­es­sar­i­ly tied to a painter­ly sen­si­bil­i­ty, and that with­out the influ­ence of fine art on com­po­si­tion, col­or, and fram­ing, a Lynchi­an pro­duc­tion may be in dan­ger of looking—as he says of that dis­ap­point­ing Twin Peaks’ sec­ond season—“stupid and goofy.”

via IndieWire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sur­re­al Film­mak­ing of David Lynch Explained in 9 Video Essays

Ange­lo Badala­men­ti Reveals How He and David Lynch Com­posed the Twin Peaks‘ “Love Theme”

Hear the Music of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Played by the Dan­ish Nation­al Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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