1 November – 21 December 2019
257 Bowery, New York, NY, 10002
By DANIEL MAIDMAN December, 2019
Certain artists earn themselves this enviable position: that their signature forces us to contemplate an artwork we might otherwise ignore. This is not the same as to say that their signature makes us ascribe quality to artwork which we would otherwise condemn. Rather, their position enables them to make work focusing on such subtle or obscure phenomena that, had their signature not forced us to pause, we might never have noticed what the work had to offer. In a sense, it is only artists who have earned such gravitas of signature who can lead us into the thickets of certain extremely difficult qualities of art.
David Lynch is one such artist. If he says Look, then I, for one, will look. I will linger, and become receptive to meaning, in a way that I would not on seeing an identical work by someone whose insight and creativity I did not so trust. I do not like all of Lynch’s paintings, for the same reason I do not like all the work of any creative individual: any truly creative person is half-blind to the meaning of his own work. The things he thinks are important about it, are not what is really important about it.
I’m not in love with the ink paintings he has in his current show at Sperone Westwater. The titles and narrative content of the paintings occupy the same region of numinous menace his films explore. But as paintings I don’t think they succeed as the films succeed. In When He Went Home The House Was Different, what is the import of the loose and irregular wash? What is the use of the contrast between the faint lines of the figures and buildings and the comically thick line around the word bubble?
By contrast, the giant, mixed-media paintings (oil paint + x, it looks like, x being all sorts of cloth and teeth and whatnot), are dynamite. Again, Lynch’s narratives take place in a zone of psychosexual drama bubbling with threats, perverse desires, and sudden revelations.
But the expansive scale of the work, and the media from which it is constructed, enable a second, competing narrative to emerge. The surface narratives, the stories that the paintings are a picture of, deploy a motif of missing information, in the service of ambiguity and suggestiveness. But the material stories of the making and physicality of the paintings, is overwhelming in its diversity and density of information. There is more here than we can ever reduce to meaning. There is a kind of hideous multiplication of information.
I am aware of only one other situation in which we are presented with quite this quality of burgeoning information, and that is organic decay. The living organic system – for instance the human body – is complex, but orderly. The function and structure of each part serves the function and structure of the whole. There is an upper limit to the diversity of the system, because it is fundamentally unified and harmonious - death puts an end to all that. Almost immediately, the existing information system present in the body itself is overlaid with new sources of information: the physical and chemical processes of decay, and the organisms and microorganisms which invade the body. As opposed to the integrated function of the living body, these organic decomposers are at odds with each other and the body, setting off chains of competition and destruction. Of course, there is order in this process, at the ecological level, but the information it lays bare is dense and unpredictable. The living body can only go one way. The dead body can go a thousand ways, many of them at the same time. This state is appropriately called the riot of corruption.
In his paintings, Lynch summons the riot of corruption in a way I have not quite seen in any other painter. Who else is there to consult? Kiefer? Bacon? De Kooning? Twombly? Each has his own aesthetic of materials, but ultimately they are somehow clean. Complex though their work may be, it converges toward order - Lynch’s work diverges toward mess. Thus Lynch finds a territory all his own, aligned with the unfathomable complexity and tremendous suggestiveness of the decaying corpse.
This monstrous materiality is only part of Lynch’s work. Just as the riot of corruption disfigures, but cannot conceal, the form of the body, so too Lynch’s paintings vibrate with the shifting relationship between their comparatively orderly narrative, and their riotous technical narrative.
A logocentric approach to this painting leaves us reading the words alone, and the words tell a disconcerting story. But full engagement with the physical fact of the painting brings us up against that discolored clot of paint beneath the words, and all those irrational variations of color and texture across the entire field. Do they inform the words, the surface narrative? Not in a direct way. But the sum of the surface narrative, and the fact of the painting, and the shifting states of antagonism, collaboration, and indifference between them, does add up to the total effect of the painting. It give it its ultimate sense and meaning. Even if sense and meaning can never be deciphered, the humming, brimming nature of the thing, of alternating ellipsis and overflow, betrays a process for constructing meaning which is latent in all painting, but fully expressed uniquely in Lynch.
This is how a master, who has earned the right to have difficult work studied carefully, takes advantage of that right: he teaches lessons about art and about being which cannot be learned any other way. WM
Daniel Maidman is a painter and writer. His art is included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections, among them those of New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, Chicago collector Howard Tullman, Disney senior vice president Jackson George, and Gemini-winning screenwriter Jeremy Boxen. He has produced paintings in collaboration with best-selling novelist China Miéville, award-winning poet Kathleen Rooney, independent film icon Martin Donovan, and noted installation artist Erika Johnson. Maidman’s art and writing on art have been featured in ARTnews, Forbes, Juxtapoz, Whitehot Magazine, Hyperallergic, American Art Collector, International Artist, Poets/Artists, MAKE, Manifest, and The Artist’s Magazine. He blogs for The Huffington Post. He lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.
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