My Head is Disconnected - David Lynch Exhibition @ Home Theatre - Manchester

29th August 2019, Home Theatre, Manchester, held a preview screening of Tom Burke’s latest film The Souvenir, followed by a Q&A session with Tom and director Joanna Hogg. Whilst I’d already seen a preview in July, I thought the Q&A would herald some interesting insights into the film, so I decided to go along and watch the film again.

Whilst waiting for the film/Q&A, I noticed that there was a David Lynch art exhibition being held. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to visit the exhibit that night and to be honest, I knew nothing about David Lynch, other than his name was synonymous with a TV programme I loved back in the 90’s when I was about 16/17.

Here was an opportunity to get inside the mind of the visionary TV & film director, and as I was about to find out, artist. The exhibit featured approximately 88 of his works dating from the 1960s to some of his current pieces. At the Q&A, I flicked through some postcards and thought the works might need, not explaining exactly, but maybe I required a bit of an insight into the artist himself to make the most of his work. I located a curated tour on the 28th September, the day before the exhibit ended. I booked a ticket to the tour for me and my mate and a full day of culture was planned around it…David Lynch exhibition, Dinner at The Ivy, followed by Macbeth at the Royal Exchange.

(For the eagle eyed amongst you, you’ll have noticed that I haven’t blogged about the Q&A evening. This is because whilst I was writing, some news about the night reached my ears and made me explode like a firework. As I continued exploding, the venom pouring from me reached my keyboard and made for an unpleasant read…so I decided not to publish it, or indeed any of the other blogs I had part written and were being tainted by my mood. After a month away from social media, bar the odd Instagram post, and cutting communication with the perpetrator of these immense feelings of despair and bewilderment (and anger…I get so angry when people lie about me) I feel it’s now safe to go back to the keyboard. Those posts lying dormant in my word files are in the process of being re-written and will get posted, but for now, I’m writing about my new exploits that have occured sans Burketeers!)

David Lynch graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, with a body of work which encompasses painting, sculpture, drawing and photography from the past five decades. Although he might be better known for producing films such as Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and The Elephant Man, he is foremost an artist, not just a film maker who dabbles in art as a hobby. This collection provided an interesting look at both the man, and an exploration into his mind, where everyday life can be transformed into dark, chaotic images which re-examine the world in which we live.

I really only knew the name David Lynch because he was the man behind Twin Peaks, a TV show which left me totally baffled as a teenager. I remember it was a bit of a talking point at the time. I mean, where else would you find a “sdrawkcab gniklat tius der a ni nam llams?” This was a world where a woman was killed but her spirit resided in a drawer knob. A woman walks around with a log (yeah remember the log lady?!) And what about the FBI agent, shot and lying on the floor whilst the milkman continued with his round, oblivious to what was stretched out in front of him? This was a mad surreal world that I had loved…and this exhibit was about to make me realise what a talented and imaginative person Lynch is. (You cannot believe how thrilled I was to find it is currently being shown on Sky!)

“My Head is Disconnected” transports you into the mind and soul of the artist. Split into four chapters, the exhibit is curated in a manner which doesn’t put specific works of art completed at the same time together. Instead, 88 of Lynch’s 3500 works have been put together in the largest UK solo exhibition to give a flavour of the man and his extraordinary talent by amalgamating various themes together.

Chapter One: City on Fire, explores extreme landscapes and the effect they have on the people that live in them. Walking into the room you are immediately thrown into the world of David Lynch, one full of tragic, dystopian figures. At one end of the room is a painting of a house on fire, the canvas is covered in various organic material (Suddenly my House Became a Tree of Sores, 1990.) This house is not a home, nor is it necessarily the safe place we expect it to be; it’s a place filled with danger and destruction.

The most noticeable painting in this room is “Bob Finds Himself in a World For Which He Has No Understanding.” I was drawn to this picture immediately (I'm not sure if that's because Bob used to be my nickname or not.) For fans of Twin Peaks you might think that Lynch is painting Killer Bob…but he’s not. The name Bob is coincidental. This Bob is a lost soul in a forest ravaged by fire. He (or she) is looking for the path…but is the path going to lead further into the forest or be the safe path back home? A forest can be a quiet, safe place of contemplation, but is also gives way to its darker side, being lost in a forest, or worse. Is this the place of dreams or nightmares?

Bob features in several of Lynch’s works, in this picture he is childlike, you take pity on him, but in other works in the exhibition you wonder whether he is actually good or bad…very much like human life where we can be both good or evil depending upon the mask we have chosen to wear that day. 

Chapter Two: Nothing Here, introduces us to various characters which show how fragile the mind is and gives place to the work in which the exhibit is named. Whilst Lynch is not trying to psychoanalyse people, an interesting feature of the exhibit is a Ricky Board. A drawing of 20 identical dead flies, each one given a name underneath. The idea if for the viewer to give each of those “characters” a story…sparking the imagination and looking inside one’s own head for what lies in there.

The picture invites people to make their own Ricky boards…just follow the rules of the poem and make up your own story. “Four rows of five, your rickies come alive. Twenty is plenty. It isn’t tricky, just name each Ricky. Even though they’re the same, the change comes from the name.” Essentially, if each bug is given a different name, it looks the same as Ricky, but it now has a life story of its own.

Chapter Three: Industrial Empire, is a visual interpretation of industry and the industrial landscape. This particular exhibit works well in Manchester, especially for those familiar with L S Lowry’s rainy, windswept industrial landscapes of the area. David is particularly interested in Victorian industrialist architecture and even visited Manchester once to look for the old factories, many of which were in the process of being pulled down. But these pictures tell another story, a story of man’s ambition and possibly the cost of having that ambition. There was a picture entitled “A Lonely Figure Talks to Himself.” In it the character asks himself “where are you going you fucking idiot?” A question that often appears in my head, and so I laughed out loud at it. I’m not sure if I was the only person to find it amusing…but I appeared to be the only person to see the humour in the situation.

Chapter Four: Bedtime Stories, is some of Lynch’s new works in which narratives unfurl for his resident characters, Bob, Ricky, Sally and Billy in their own unique universe. This I a collection which shows a connection between the works. Pet dogs, playgrounds, tree houses etc…places of fun and safety to run and play, but in “Who is Outside My House My Dog is Running Away. They Come in Thru My T.V. where is My Dog” (2018) shows the strange and unpleasant realism of society, that nowhere is safe…what monstrous creature is out there…and that motif of the picket fence? Is this the motif of wholesome America keeping the bad out…or does it show that whilst a fence can keep the bad out…it can also keep it locked in?

What was interesting for me was being told that Lynch constantly uses the motifs in his art….trees, electricity, houses. When this is pointed out to you, you start to see the motifs more clearly and you can create your own narratives for each piece. Whilst many of the artworks have a dark foreboding about them, there is a lot of humour in each piece too. I laughed out loud at “A Lonely Figure Talks to Himself” and a short time later I heard a gentleman (who was obviously very well acquainted with Lynch’s work) telling the lady he was with that most people take the picture too seriously and don’t laugh.

What I also noticed about Lynch’s work is that the paintings aren’t always painted on canvas. Some of the notably larger works were painted on large pieces of cardboard stuck together to form one giant hanging. And don’t ask what the natural materials used on some of the creations were…it defied the mind to think what some of the organic materials could be. But that aside, what I was seeing was an experiment of ideas, a start of a conversation. This isn’t work created by a man with a vision that you have to adopt…this is a man throwing ideas out at you and asking you to come back with your own thoughts, your own views and feelings on the world and its inhabitants.

I also noticed just how influential an artist such as Lynch can be. The curator Sarah Perks took us around the exhibit, and it was clear what an impact David had made on her. She gushed about him, not in a sycophantic way, but one which showed what immense joy his work gave to her. It was clear that when she met him, he didn’t disappoint her, that she was able to engage with him on a professional level and obtain some insight into his work. She said he was eager for her to take the exhibition and run with it. He wanted to know why she had chosen specific pieces of art and was gratified that she had chosen items which spoke and meant something to her. His only stipulation was the art should be hung from the grey walls we saw, white walls were too reflective, especially as a lot of his work was in black and white.

If you go to Home’s website, there is a video of the Q&A they held with David Lynch which is fascinating if you’re interested in his work.

And yes, of course I bought the t-shirt (a bargain at £10)…but not for the conclusion you've probably jumped to. I enjoyed the exhibition far more than I expected so it was a nice "souvenir", plus the design reminded me of a t-shirt I designed back in 1996...hmmm....remind me, why on earth didn't I go to art school?