David Lynch has been getting into transcendental meditation – or so he announced at the preview of his current exhibition, David Lynch: The Unified Field, on display at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through January 11.

"My Head is Disconnected," ca. 1994-96

“My Head is Disconnected,” ca. 1994-96

“It’s a mental technique,” Lynch explained, “that allows human beings to transcend, go beyond the field of relativity….When you start expanding consciousness, really expanding it, negativity starts lifting away, and I felt a heavy weight starting to lift, and it was very beautiful.”

Going to see the show is a bit like an act of meditation in itself. If you have any inner demons stalking through your subconscious, the paintings on the wall will rip them out and send them dancing away. It’s a safe space where the unknown and the unknowable are made tangible, more familiar and somehow slightly less frightening.

One such demon that haunts the space is that of the eternal youth – you can just picture him curled up on the floor over a pad of paper and scrawling out his terrible nightmares. Nightmares too deep, too primal for any mortal youth to process, rife with worldly experience and existential crisis. A child trying to make sense of circumstances beyond his control, an innocence still breathing, still surviving in the miasma of corruption. These nightmares take shape in the paintings, where young boys and girls who might otherwise be content with sandlots and sleepovers find themselves playing pranks that involve lighting fires and loaded guns.

"I Find it Very Difficult to Understand What is Going on These Days," 2009

“I Find it Very Difficult to Understand What is Going on These Days,” 2009

Lynch himself began drawing as a child, using scraps of paper that his father brought home from work. He remains grateful to a mother who refused to stifle his creativity with coloring books.

“And I drew knives, guns, airplanes, and I always say my favorite was the Browning Automatic Submachine Gun,” he added. His painting’s characters do not have the benefits of creativity as an outlet. In a universe confronted with assault both outwardly violent and subtly sinister, they react in kind.

The other recurring character to make an appearance in this frame-by-frame play is that of Fear Itself – FDR’s famous words made flesh. Grown men gibber to themselves in unpopulated pockets of the universe, trying to find meaning in madness, or perhaps taking comfort from madness in meaninglessness. Disembodied hands violate the sacred spaces of the home-front. Unknown figures stalk women as they try to return to the sacred space of the hearth. And the mysterious Mister Redman calls idle hands to account for their sins. There is no shelter from the self, no shelter from the eternal possibility of attack. The universe is an open and vulnerable space, crowded only by human thoughts that crawl across its roads and skies in handwritten fragments or pasted words.

She Was Walking To Her House And Then There Was Someone, 2013

She Was Walking To Her House And Then There Was Someone, 2013

A history of the human race’s subconscious is mapped out in Lynch’s work, where unnamed mythological figures born of man’s first scream confront the violence and over-saturation of the modern world. Knives, guns, and airplanes function as the playthings for the oddly-proportioned shadow figures that populate it.

“I always say Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is my biggest influence,” Lynch said. “There is something about the mood here, and the fear, insanity, corruption, filth, despair, violence in the air was so beautiful to me…The world does inspire many ideas, but once you catch an idea that you love, it’s just trying to realize that idea.”

Catch an idea of your humanity with David Lynch: The Unified Field, and realize the beauty in its vulnerability, its persistence despite despair, its courage in confronting the unknown.

Charlotte A. Schatz

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