David Lynch has always been fascinated by the human body and its myriad forms – from the physical perfection embodied by Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet to the extreme disfigurement of John Merrick, whose congenital disorder and the cruelties it yielded, formed the subject of his 1982 Oscar-winner The Elephant Man. Likewise, the American artist’s surrealistic paintings frequently depict unsettlingly distorted human figures; he cites Francis Bacon as one of his biggest inspirations. Now, a new photo book – released in collaboration with the Fondation Cartier in Paris, the museum that hosted his 2007 retrospective of photography and painting The Air is on Fire – offers a Lynchian perspective on the female nude, courtesy of over a hundred black-and-white and colour images captured by the artist. And, as one might expect, they are a masterclass in mystery and eroticism.
A woman’s long-lashed eyes and scarlet lips emerge from behind her brightly taloned fingers in a shot that has echoes of Guy Bourdin’s iconic image for Vogue Paris in 1970. A figure with blonde tresses reclines on a raspberry pink armchair, her naked body out of focus and viewed through a haze of cigarette smoke, as if we ourselves are the exhaling voyeur. (Lynch is excellent at revealing your inner-peeping-Tom – just think of the wardrobe scene in Blue Velvet.) An up-close, monochrome study of a woman’s crossed legs has all the compositional deftness of an Edward Weston. Many of the shots are abstracted in some way, captured from unusual angles that offer a kaleidoscopic view of facial features or entwined limbs. As with everything to which Lynch turns his hands, a distinct poeticism is at play – one which endlessly beguiles and intrigues. “I like to photograph naked women… It is amazing and magic to see how different [they] are,” the artist says in a quote accompanying the book’s launch. But what proves most mystical of all is Lynch’s own interpretation of what he terms the “infinite variety” of the human form, as viewed through his esoteric lens.
David Lynch, Nudes is out now, published by Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.