The City of Absurdity David Lynch
Interviews & Articles

taken from Colección Imagen: David Lynch, 1992
Sala Parpalló diputación provincial de Valencia
Edicions Alfons el Magnànim, Institució Valenciana D'Estudis, I investigació

Interview March 8, 1992 by Kristine McKenna

The following conversation with David Lynch took place at his house in the Hollywood Hills on the morning of March 8, 1992. The day we spoke, Lynch had just returned to LA from New York where he'd been working with the composer Angelo Badalamenti on the music for the soon to be released adaptation of his TV series "Twin Peaks", the next day he was scheduled to leave for Berkeley where he'll sped months mixing the sound for the film. Lynch is perpetually on the go and it's not surprising that his large multi-leveled house has the feeling of a dwelling where the occupant is away a good deal of the time. It's sparsely furnished (a few 50's style chairs, a low couch, and a coffee table), done in muted tones, and there's noting on the walls (Lynch recently bought two photographs by his favorite photographer, Diane Arbus, but he hasn't hung them up]. In the kitchen one finds Lynch's treasured cappuccino maker along with neat stacks of scripts, videos and books. This is a house of a busy person – there's no evidence anywhere of anyone lounging around and relaxing.
    The fact that it's Sunday morning doesn't prevent business calls from pouring in, and talking to Lynch between calls one deduces that there's no down time in this man's life; he manages to cram an extraordinary amount of highly creative activity into each and every day. As can be seen in the following conversation, Lynch's creativity and his life are built on a solid structure of philosophical belief. One could make the case that it is this structure of belief that gives him the enormous vitality at the core of his diverse and ever expanding work.

Your paintings seem to depict the world from the perspective of a terror stricken child; is that an accurate assessment?

Pretty much. I love child things because there's so much mystery when you're a child. When you're a child, something as simple as a tree doesn't make sense. You see it in the distance and it looks small, but as you go closer, it seems to grow – you haven't got a handle on the rules when you're a child. We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experienced is a narrowing of the imagination

How do you explain the fact that you've retained such a clear grasp of a child' perspective?

I guess I got whacked hard in the mystery department when I was little. I found the world completely and totally fascinating then – it was like a dream. They say that people who think they had a happy childhood are blocking something out, but think I really had one. Of course I had he usual fears, like going to school – I knew there was some sort of problem there. But every other person sensed that problem too, so my fears were pretty normal

You use these words, mystery and fear; what's the connection between the two?

There's always fear of the unknown where there's mystery. It's possible to achieve a state where you realize the truth of life and fear disappears, and a lot of people have reached that state, but next to none of them are on Earth. There's probably a few.

Would someone who'd achieve that degree of insight still be driven to do creative work?

They'd do a different kind of creative work that would totally be in accordance with the laws of nature. There work would be devoted to helping people who weren't there yet and elevating the universe.

Are the laws of nature cruel?

Absolutely not – they just seem cruel because we see such a small fragment for the whole plan. We live in a world of opposites, of extreme evil and violence opposed to goodness and peace. It's that way here for a reason but we have a hard time grasping what that reason is. In struggling to understand the reason, we learn about balance and there's a mysterious door right at that balance point. We can go through that door anytime we get together.

How old do you feel emotionally?

Between 9 and 17 most of the time, and sometimes around six. When you're six you can see down the street and you're aware there may be another block, but the world is pretty much two blocks big.

One of your recent paintings, "So This Is Love", seems to take a fairly dark view of love. The image centers on a lone figure with impossibly long legs that elevate his head into bleak empty space. An airplane splutters by his head pumping smoke into the night sky; can you talk a bit about this piece.

It's like a negative image of my childhood. In reality that sky would've been blue and Technicolor and the plane would've been a large military plane that made a droning sound. The plane took a long time to cross the sky and the sound it made was very serene. The world seemed to be more quiet when the plane was passing through the sky.

This is a pleasant memory for you, yet you've translated it into a dark image; why?

Because darkness has crept in since then. The darkness is realizations about the world and human nature and my own nature all combined into one ball of sludge.

Many of your painting combine allusions to romantic love, physical wounding , and death; do you find something erotic about illness and decay?

Erotic? No, but illness and decay are a part of nature. Illness on a piece of steel is rust. If you throw a piece of paper out in the rain and come back in a few days, it'll have little molds on it, so its like a magical thing happens. Illness is a very bad thing but people design big buildings for illness, and invent machinery and little tubes and all that kind of stuff. So just like in nature, a whole new thing rises up out of illness.

Do you fear the body?

No, but it's a strange thing. It's most important function appears to be carrying the mind from one place to another, but there are a lot of fun things that you can do with the body too,. of course, it can also be torture. I'm not into exercise so I worry about keeping my body in good enough shape to take everything else around.

What's the most frightening thing about you home?

It's a place where thing's can go wrong. When I was a child home seemed claustrophobic to me but that wasn't because I had a bad family. A home is like a nest – it's only useful for so long and then you cant (wait) to get out. Saying that all nests are only useful for a limited period doesn't mean all love dies with time, but love changes. I still love everyone I've ever loved.

I once heard love described as an intermingling of pity and desire, and do you really agree with that observation?

Not really. To lose love is like light and it's only a problem when there's an absence of it. Pure love asks for nothing back and it's more like a sensation or a vibration, but unfortunately most people don't understand pure love. We tend to put the responsibility onto another person and that doesn't work out too good.

Who taught you the most about visual art?

My first really important teacher was a guy named Bushnell Keeler who was the father of my good friend Toby Keeler. This was when I was 15 and living in Virginia, and Bushnell was the first professional artist I ever met. I'd never heard of such a thing and from that moment I wanted to be a painter – his life seemed like a miracle to me. the most important thing was that he had a studio and painted everyday. He also turned me onto this book by Robert Henri called "The Art Spirit" that sort of became my bible, because that book made the rules for art life.

What was the first artwork that made an impression on you?

An exhibition of Francis Bacon's work that I saw at Marlborough Gallery in New York when I was 18. It was images of meat and cigarettes and what struck me about them was the beauty of the paint and the balance and contrast in the pictures. it was like perfection

Does art go through fertile and fallow periods?

Yeah, it must, and it seems to be in a kind of lean period now. The 80s were a good period because although all that money churning through caused a lot of goofball stuff to bob up, there was an excitement about painting for the first time in a long time.

Looking over your over your paintings of the past eight years, it seems you work is becoming increasingly minimal; would you agree with that?

Yes and the reason for that is because I feel a yearning for purity. As my life becomes more complicated, want my art to become more simple because everything in life revolves around trying to maintain a balance.

I also notice that the surface of your paintings are becoming more increasingly modeled and sculptural; was it a conscious decision to take the work in this direction?

Yes, I'd like to build them out even more. The idea of paint on a flat surface doesn't excite me so much right now. I like the idea of a field where someone's dumped some garbage – the garbage puffs up higher than the surface of the field, and I like that.

Have you ever spoken to a conservationist about how the mix of materials you use will age?(Lynch's paintings incorporate cardboard, cotton, Band-Aids, and medicinal ointment along with standard painting materials).

I don't care one bit how they age. Nature should go to work on these things – they're not finished really, and they'll look a lot better in fifty years.

If your paintings had sound what would it be like?

Different paintings would have different sounds. "So this is love", would have a muffled sound like talking through a glove." A bug dreams" would be a really shrill 15.000 cycle piercing sound, "She wasn't Fooling Anyone, She was hurt bad" would be an extremely slow motion, muffled breaking glass sound.

I also see the work becoming increasingly rough and aggressive. The violence in your work used to be muted and now its very overt; are you conscious of that?

I'd like to bite my paintings but I can't because there's lead in the paint so. Which means I'm kind of a chicken. I don't feel I've gotten in there yet and the paintings still seem safe and tranquil – regardless of what I do, there's still something beautiful about them.

That you find your work tranquil and beautiful while most people find it disturbing suggests you're unusually comfortable with the dark side of your psyche; why is that?

I have no idea. I've always been that way. I've always liked both sides and believed that in order to appreciate one you have to know the other – the more darkness you can gather up, the more light you can see too.

What kinds of things function as seeds fir paintings?

Inspiration is like a piece of fuzz – it kind of comes up and makes a desire and an image that causes me to want to paint it. Or I can be going along and see an old Band-Aid in the street, and you know how an old Band-Aid is. It's got some dirt around the edges and the rubber part has formed some black little balls. and you see the stain of a little and maybe some yellow dirt on it, a little ointment. It's in the gutter next to some dirt and a rock, and maybe a little twig. If you were to see a photograph of that not knowing what it was, it would be unbelievably beautiful.

What's your policy on color?

My policy is that I don't like it, maybe because I haven't learnt to use it properly. Whatever the reason it doesn't thrill me – it looks cheep and goofball. although I like to do brown and brown is a color. I also like earth colors and sometimes I use red and yellow – the red is used for blood a lot and the yellow is used for fire.

What about your painting is distinctly American?

The subject matter. A lot of my paintings come from memories of Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington.

What aspect of the future do you find most disturbing?

The downhill spiral into chaos. I used to think that the president of the United States had a handle on the future and had some sort of control over what happened over my neighborhood but now we know that isn't true. We're in a time when you can really picture these really tall evil things running at night, just racing. the more freedom you give them, the more they come out and just race and they're running in every direction now. Pretty soon there'll be so many of them that you can't stop them. It's really a critical time.

Has the violent aspect of the culture increased or did we just used to police it better?

It's way bigger now. dark things have always existed but they used be in a proper balance with good and life was slower. People lived in towns and small farms where they knew everybody and people didn't move around so much so things were a little more peaceful. There were things that they were afraid of for sure, but now it's accelerated to where the anxiety level of the people is in the stratosphere. TV sped things up and cause people to hear way more bad news. Mass media overloaded people with more than they could handle, and drugs also had a lot to do with it. With drugs people can get so rich and whacked out and they've opened up a whole weird world. These things have created a modern kind of fear in America..

Have these things also played a role in the crumbling of the family structure?

Yeah, all these things are part of the same tension. If you put a jack-hammer under a table, pretty soon all the stuff on it starts vibrating and breaking and flying off the table. People have a short these days and have no feeling of security about the future. If you have a job, you're lucky if it lasts until Friday, Macy's is bankrupt and nothing is sure anymore.

What's the proper course of action when everything around you is crumbling?

One change of attitude would change everything. If everyone realized that it could be a beautiful world and said let's not do these things anymore – lets have fun.

Will the world be better or worse in a hundred years time?

It'll be a much better place.

What's' the most positive change that has occurred in your life in recent years?

I feel I can venture into any avenue I want. I remember not having enough money to buy canvas. And getting ideas for sculptures but not having any place to build them. It's still not 100% – I don't have a shop or darkroom – but I no longer feel restricted by external obstacles, and all the different directions I'm able to move in feed one another. The only material I have a shortage of now is time.

What's the most difficult aspect of the mass popularity you experienced with "Twin Peaks"?

That was pretty troubling. It's nice when people like something that you've done but it's sort of like love that seems inevitable that the people reach the point when they've had enough of you, and they fall for the next thing. You're helpless to control that process and awareness of it is like a dull ache. It's not like a sharp pain – it's a little bit like heartache, and that heartache is about the fact that we're living in the "Home Alone" age. Art houses are dying. What we have instead are mall cinemas showing twelve pictures and those are the pictures people see. Television has lowered the level and made a certain thing popular, that TV thing moves fast, doesn't have a lot of substance, has a laugh track and that's all.

You once made the comment" this is a lesson world and we're supposed to learn stuff"; why are we supposed to learn stuff?

So we can graduate. School is a good symbol for what we're going through. You graduate and go into another place that's so incredible that we can't even conceive it now. The human being has this potential to have this experience and it has nothing to do with gangs and cars. It's a whole beautiful thing that's completely above it. but you've got to get it together to have that world.

It's interesting that you have this well ordered , optimistic structure for belief, and yet you still see this great big darkness in existence; how do you explain that disparity?

It's lie being locked in a building with ten maniacs. You know there's a door somewhere and there's a police station across the street where they'll take care of you, but you're still in the building. It doesn't matter what you know about the other places if you're still stuck in the building.

Do you pray?

Yes I do.

Have you ever had a religious experience?

Yes I have. Several years ago I was at the LA County Museum of Art and they had this show of sandstone carvings from India. I was there with my first wife and our daughter Jennifer and I wondered off and got separated from them. there was nobody around, just these carvings and it was really quiet. I rounded a corner and my eyes went down the corridor and there was a pedestal at the very end. My eyes went up the pedestal and at the top was this head of a Buddha. When I looked at the head, white light shot out of it into my eyes and it was like boom! I was full of bliss. I had other experiences like that.

When do you feel powerful?

Not too often, When you do something that works you have a happiness, but I don't know if its a feeling of power. Power is a frightening thing and that's not what I'm interested in. I want to do certain things and make them right in my mind and that's it. The fact that you have to go out and get reviews and get theatres and galleries to show your work doesn't jive with what it's about for me. I get heartache out of that part of it.

What's your fondest memory of your father?

Him walking to work dressed in a suit and a ten gallon cowboy hat. We lived in Virginia and it was so embarrassing to me at the time that he wore this hat, but now I consider it totally cool. It wasn't like a regulation thing – it was a grey-green forest service 10 gallon cowboy hat, and he'd put his hat on and walk outside the door. He wouldn't go by bus or car or anything, he'd just start walking and he'd walk several miles all the way across the George Washington Bridge into the city in that hat.

To what degree do we fictionalize our past?

We favor ourselves in all our memories. we make ourselves act better in the past and make better decisions and we're nicer to people and we take more credit than we possibly deserve – we candy-coat it so crazy so we can go forward and live. An accurate memory of the past would be depressing, probably?

Why do we try to find meaning in life? Why is it so difficult to accept the possibility that existence is pointless?

Because there are so many clues and feelings in the world that it makes a mystery and a mystery means there's a puzzle to be solved. Once you think like that you're booked on probably finding a meaning, and there' many avenues in life where we're given little indications that the mystery can one day be solved. we get little proofs, – not the big proof – but the little proofs that keep us searching.

What would the big proof be?

Total bliss consciousness.

What do you think happens after death?

It's like going to sleep after a day of activity. A lot of things happen in sleep and then you wake up and have another day of activity – that's how I see it. I don't know exactly where you go, but I've hear stories about what happens, and there's no denying that dying is the number one fear. We don't even know how long it takes to die. If that person has stopped breathing is that person still in the process of dying? How can we know when they're finished and it's OK to move them?. Eastern religions say the soul needs a few days to exit the body and I've heard that exiting the body is painful. You've gotta kind of pull yourself out of your earthly existence. It's like getting the pit out of a young peach. When George Burns dies, he'll be such an old peach that the pit won't be stuck, That pit will just pop right out there – this will be such a beautiful thing.

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