Still Inside the Red Room, Twenty Years Later
It’s been twenty years since Twin Peaks first aired on ABC, and audiences still can’t get enough of David Lynch’s odd and compelling worlds-within-worlds. The series revolves around a seemingly sleepy Pacific Northwest town populated by a cast of peculiar characters. But after the murder of beloved prom queen Laura Palmer, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (a steely and cool pre-Housewives Kyle McLaughlin) is sent in to investigate, revealing a series of unraveling mysteries and underworlds lurking beneath the town’s homey facade.
The series encapsulates what Lynch does best: he worms his way into your psyche, penetrating all the those things lying dormant in your subconscious that frighten you or excite you or exposes you most. But rather than scare you, he wraps you in a strange sense of calm, lying somewhere between the grotesque and the familiar. David Lynch once said that Twins Peaks is still going on in his mind, and apparently, he’s not the only one. Last Saturday, at Clifton’s Brookdale in Los Angeles, a collection of artists came together for In the Trees: Twin Peaks 20th Anniversary Exhibit, showcasing the artworks of myriad artists inspired by the work of David Lynch and the mysterious world of Twin Peaks. We caught up with two of the featured artists, Jessica Joclin and Paul Chatem, to see where their Lynchian obsession stems from and how their exhibit piece evolved.
So how did you become involved with the exhibit? J: I recently did a solo show at La Luz de Jesus gallery in LA. Rob Wilson, who organized this exhibit, happened to see my show. He was quite intrigued by my work, so I was invited to participate. P: Robert Wilson, the curator of the show, saw my work at a downtown L.A. gallery called Dialect. Liked what he saw and asked me if I’d be interested in participating.
Had you always been a Lynch fan? J: I saw Blue Velvet in the theater when it first came out and it knocked me sideways…in the very best way possible. Since then, I’ve never missed the chance to experience the exquisite worlds that Lynch creates. Their enchantment never tarnishes as I visit and re-visit them through the years…like a really great song, I discover something new every time. P: Yes. I saw The Elephant Man at a really young age. I used to watch Twin Peaks with my Mom, was obsessed with Eraserhead and Blue Velvet as an art student.
How were you inspired to make the piece you’re showing in the show? Tell me about the piece? J: When I first heard about the Twin Peaks show, I knew that I had to make a Great Horned owl, there was no other option! Owls are as compelling a presence in the series as they are when glimpsed in the night. They seem to embody all that is inexplicable and mysterious about the forces that lurk within the deep old woods that surround Twin Peaks. I often feel that too literal a translation dampens the magic, but in Twin Peaks, the owls are indeed “not what they seem.” They are all-seeing emissaries from another place, inhabited by the spirits who populate the Black Lodge. They often appear as omens of dark mischief to come.
I chose Cooper as the name of my owl, because at the end of the series, Special Agent Dale Cooper is trapped within the Black Lodge. Since the series didn’t continue past that point, his character is trapped forever in a strange sort of limbo. I figured the only good that could come of that, is that he would be able to take the form of an owl, to fly with silent wings and see through the night. It’s my symbolic gift to a beautifully realized character. It’s also a play on words, since there is a magnificent raptor known as the Cooper’s hawk and this new species is Cooper’s owl. The piece itself is made from a wide variety of found and manipulated materials: antique hardware, chandelier parts, Victorian silver cutwork, brass findings, and cast pewter talons. The wings are made of sections cut from a antique silver serving dish, and embellished with rows of intricately embossed brass feathers. Owls are a protected species, so I created a realistic replica of an owl skull, cast in slightly translucent resin to simulate the transparency of bone. To capture the penetrating gaze of the Great Horned owl, hand blown glass eyes are set within eyelids made of glove leather from antique opera gloves.
P: I was inspired by the Pacific North West Native American mural that was painted in the Cafe of the show. So for my piece I painted my interpretation of that for the background with the characters standing in front of it like a totem. At the bottom standing on the herringbone pattern of the red room carpet is the Man from the other place, above him his Agent Cooper, standing on either side is Audrey Horne and Donna Hayward, above Cooper is the Giant. Above the Giant is the Owl. The piece is painted on wood with moving wood gears. When the gears turn it disrupts the composition creating tension. At the same time the owls eyes bounce up and down and the hands in the mural wave back and forth.
What is it about Twin Peaks that inspired you to make art from it? What attracted you to Twin Peaks as a television show? J: It embodies great mystery and magic. It is as strange as life, in both it’s beauty and it’s brutality. P: Everything from the color and compositions of the shots that David Lynch uses to the way he writes characters is similar to how I create paitings. So when Rob asked me to make a piece about the show it wasn’t a stretch from my regular work.
It’s been 20 years and people are still obsessing over the show. Why do you think that is? J: It’s a very vividly realized world, yet unlike most television series, it leaves room to dream. The characters are archetypal, yet those traits are manifested in ways that are quite unusual and unique. Even when certain characters seem a bit like a comic caricature of a “type” their motivations and peculiarities are developed far beyond what one might typically see…you feel as if you have some sense of their interior worlds. P: I think it’s the combination of the serial drama format, mixed with the film noir mystery, the strange surrealistic dream scenes and the great characters. There’s never been anything else like it on television that can compare to it.
Who inspires your art besides Lynch? J: Quite often, it’s not another artist’s work so much as a specific object. In a sense, my owl for this show was inspired by a beautiful Victorian silver candy dish (which became the horned headpiece and ribcage) as much as it was by David Lynch. Because of the way that I work, and the sort of materials that I use, I need to let the objects within my hands guide me. If I listen closely to their mute voices, I know what they need to become. P: I’m inspired by good story tellers from all genres. Tom Waits’ music, Daniel Clowes’ comics, Buster Keaton’s films, Cormac McCarthy’s novels.The list can go on forever, but I’m mostly inspired by the creative friends I have that make great art and music.