On October 27th, David Lynch received an honorary Oscar for his lifelong contributions to cinema. The week after his Academy Award, an exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and furniture by Lynch opened at Sperone Westwater — Squeaky Flies in the Mud. On the evening of November 5 a line of Lynch’s fans stretched around the block, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the artist at the show’s reception. Few got to meet him, though: While Lynch entered the gallery to his fans’ applause, he only spent a few minutes among the crowd before disappearing upstairs. Lynch hasn’t released a motion picture since Twin Peaks: The Return ended on Showtime two years ago, and fans have eagerly awaited anything new from him. Could these paintings hint at secrets hidden in his other works, or even provide some spark of insight into the artist himself?
Lynch’s large, mixed-media paintings tell mysterious stories through bizarre imagery and text, with figures extending an inch or more from the surface; “Ointment” (2019) has a tube of paint and bandages embedded in it. The furniture shown alongside them combines mid-century sleekness with colorful organic growths. One of the lamps, “Douglas Fir Topped Lamp #2” (2002), appeared as a prop in Twin Peaks: The Return, spending several episodes in the corner of villain Duncan Todd’s Vegas office. Aside from this direct reference, Lynch’s cinematic and material worlds are linked by his narrative approach. The paintings provide fragmentary images, characters, and text that can be appreciated on their own but can’t be combined into anything greater unless the viewer makes a logical leap of faith. The same is true for many of his films, which invite viewers to construct their own narratives from disjointed sequences of bizarre events.
Part of the appeal of Lynch’s work is its nagging lack of resolution. In an era when popular audiences expect every plot thread to be neatly tied up by the end, Lynch’s films raise more questions than they answer. Such ambiguity is more celebrated in the fine art world, where artists are encouraged to maintain uncertainty around their work or be accused of being too illustrative. Viewers are not given any obvious keys to unlock Lynch’s work, and if there is any greater meaning for him, it’s inaccessible to anyone else. This mystery is what keeps his work engaging, and why so many fans turned out to see the show and attempted to meet him. If Lynch has any answers, they must never be known, only sought. This craving has a power than any resolution would irreversibly dispel.