To be honest THE WHITE LODGE series was in my rear view even as I knew the new series on Showtime was kicking off. I don’t tend to return to previously trod ground as a matter of practice, and despite this I had thought to try and do a single piece after Episode 1 premiered, as a wink and nod back to what is clearly one of the most engagingly complex and spookily delicious visual narratives around, and a huge impact on my own work which is clearly seen in Walt Pidgin’s character from THE LOST BOY and Bentham Hospital from SUDDEN GRAVITY. I was already 5 portraits deep into the extremely tricky and time consuming Project series DUNE, and am not one for booking two dates for the same prom. But this new drawing, large fro the weekly project at 13″ x 19″, like the DUNE pieces, so practically speaking it could not grow from there. (What’s that line about the best way to make God laugh is to make a plan? ). More images started racing through, even while I was working on another thing, they came like lightening.
I was now doing two separate project series a week, unable to stem the flow of imagery ideas and the need to execute them. When I hit my 11th portrait for DUNE, even though it wasn’t entirely finished by my mind… ( I’m looking at YOU, Dr. Yueh, Beast Rabban, Duke Leto, Stilgar, Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck), but it was obvious where the passion now was, so I put that series down to devote its time to the new WHITE LODGE series that was looking to go at least another few. It ended up bursting past 30 full scale original graphite drawings, drew really supportive contact most of the original cast and creators and sparked a realtionship with Showtime to do a feature and perhaps more with these. Something I never anticipated happening from once again, a project designed to play hooky from work…. becoming work. Happily, the summer was upon us, I had scriptwork to do for my next book, MEADOWLARK, with Ethan Hawke and aside from a few book covers, no overly pressing project that would preclude me indulging deeply into this newfound/oldfound passion project. I took off my shoes and jumped in full body.
It has been what this project always has been at its best ebb: a perfect combination of personal passion play becoming something bigger than it’s original self, and supporting itself in a way beyond even my loftiest expectations. But I’m older and a bit more experienced now and where doing something like this in the sudden kleig lights of attention would have warped the project in ways I wouldn’t wish for, I managed to keep it at bay except as an endorsement to go nuts. The new show is pretty insane and so going nuts was essentially part of the DNA of this project. It was also a language that has always spoken to me on a visual level, as much of Lynch’s work has always done, and so it was like being able to explore my own visual alphabet by cribbing off another’s. It meant I could respond to content rather than invent and respond. It afforded me the freedom to embellish rather than construct, and given I was in the script-borne foundational substrates of MEADOWLARK, it scratched that drawing itch perfectly.
I began to test the range of various techniques I’d developed over the course of exploring graphite over the last year or so. When that series came to it’s pause, that ethic carried over into THE WHITE LODGE like nitro on a campfire. Creatively I have put myself in the way of challenge numerous times as a part of my usual approach to work, but something more than the usual problem solving was in play here.This was also a theme and setting that has always held a particular resonance with me- horror/spookiness/mystery and crime. The surrealistic nature of this material melded with my own passionate love for Magritte meant I was in solid territory to say the least. I think the thing I did for this that made it so personally electrifying was the symbolic nature of the images were a-specific enough to allow me to plug in my own suppositions and meta-narratives… the branches of the trees mixing the the electrical bolts… the sectioning off of personas, schizoidal amalgams of self… the noirish crime aspect all came together in a perfect storm of just pure art-making creativity I have not truly allowed myself to indulge in in decades. When you do narrative work like me, making pure art is rare and never occurs, and while I had always imagined returning to that tap root of my own creative life sometime down the road, I confess a hesitancy to it probably born out of a mix of worry over what to do, and why to do it. This project solved both and provided a nice fenced in playground to run amok in. It meant also that my own recently explored graphite trickeries had their best opportunity to date to push and pull beyond their previous boundaries. Smoke, roots, hyper realism, water, depth of field blurring, likenesses… they could all dance freely as if Kevin bacon had come to town to release them all from their previous segregated waltzes.
I think what differentiates this new series a s a source of inspiration for picture making over the original is the license given to Frost/Lynch in how the executed the show visually, versus the more traditional quirky-tinged murder mystery/soap opera format of the initial series. Where the former promoted portraiture of the characters of the series, the latter demanded attention to its mythology. As a counter to the serious weirdness that pervaded small-screen narratives post Twin Peaks, or simply because they had the license and budget affording them a vaster array of tools, The Return became a totally new world building exercise over anything else they had expressed before. The imagery moved past their previous symbolic nature: the lounge decor as veneer over a staging area of the Black Lodge’s ultra dimensional reality, the Giant as an otherwise incomprehensible inhabitant of that dimension… this all exploded into the pure totemic alt-realities of the Arm’s evolution, the Mother, and the forever epic subconscious alterscape of Episode 8’s origin story of Bob’s arrival on earth. And as this rolled along a new language began to form in this map making mode. Images, sections of tone of blurriness and specific images mixed with distorted portraits seemed to push its way into finding a new dimension of the way in which I considered making art that hadn’t been there before. it was like I had begun to over work my fenced in playground, found a whole between some panels and was starting to sneak out into new wilder country to settle and conquer. I didn’t know what it all meant but it meant SOMETHING. There was a language forming atop the existing language of Lynch/Frost’s very specific and detailed narrative that was beginning to be its own thing. It was a hungry hatchling screaming for more and happily I went fluttering about the forest for as much as I could find.
The Return is, as my pal Kelly McKernan said so deftly, more a love letter to fans of David Lynch than just Twin Peaks. Many who hoped for and expected a solid continuation of the show’s small town weirdness were met with something much different and it did not please all to be sure. But for those of us who are longtime fans of Lynch’s work, even at its uneven expressions, it was an utter expansive delight. Suddenly the town existed amongst other place just hinted at in the film, Fire Walk With Me. The Blue Rose, Agent Cooper’s fate, the Trinity test site and the Woodsman all grew new branches from the now seemingly small and limited tree of the show’s basic trunk in a way that caught us all by surprise. I found myself getting, as I do when reading a manuscript for a new book cover, awash in flashes of imagery demanding to be executed. It was relentless at times, and I found the speed of execution of some of these to be sort of shocking, and discovered as a result I was doing two, even at one time, three in a single day. I felt caught up in something and that something was so particular to my own visual ethic the previous itch to bring in all the previous graphite experiments exploded. Smoke negative space effects, combined portrait cutouts, water, depth of field trickery… all the hyper realist basics came to the fold including some new ones. I had until this time never experienced such a wildfire of creative explosiveness in a given series like this before. Even long aired episodes returned to the fore with new stitched together languages… Old Lumiere style thought balloons became a new visual window into internalized dreamscapes. The Rube Goldberg-ish type visual alphabets birthed new and unexpected techniques particularly in the form of the even more twisted and insane method of the negative space spiral portraits found their forum for expression spawning several new versions of that theme.
In short THE WHITE LODGE grew and became something I never imagined or expected, much like I suspect the way the new show triggered such a likewise state in the rest of us… it is a further reinforcing and testament to this series of codified hooky the 52 Weeks Project was and remains. It has supported itself fiscally, professionally and creatively in a way most artists dream of. I got to come in sometimes for a couple of days in a row, draw whatever I wanted to draw, and wake up and do it again the next day. This summer has been a benchmark in a new stage of my career where this is even remotely possible. I was in effect drawing my heart’s desire and when working on the necesseties, writing a story I had co-invented with Ethan. What was formerly a landscape of train-car style assignments and illustrations for others’ content, now was, by some momentary twist of fate, a time of growing my own seeds and seeing them germinate. While it has certainly triggered a new passion for doing this more, it has also rekindled a yearning to step out of my own head and reinterpret the works of others, much the way THE LOST BOY birthed a desire for collaboration. Instead of the obligatory feel and groaning resignation of returning to cover work or even the prospect of another massive graphic novel thing for something I would never ever consider before… I admit I am sort of supercharged towards it all now in a new way. Ultimate freedom didn’t just instill a new desire for freedom, but also made me appreciate the cage in a way I hadn’t before.
So at the show’s end I too felt a certainty at this final swipe at the world of Twin peaks likewise ending. I thought Lynch and Frost concluded things perfectly, giving the audience both the barnstorm action packed conclusion in episode 17 and the coda and world exploding conclusion in 18 that I only hoped to see. Like the show I depart the series feeling I got a larger world attended to in ways I never expected, new territories and old reinvigorated and now I am left like many of the fans of the show with this new richly toiled substrate of story to return to and revisit. It makes me wonder after the meaning of the show’s title so that the Return is less a simple hint at a plot point, or a promise and more of a command to now revisit this marvelous wider world that was born 25 some odd years ago in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an order I am happy to obey.As for what’s next in The 52 Weeks Project series… perhaps some interspersed DUNE portraits and if all goes according to plan, a new series on musicians. Wait… is that laughing I hear?
To see the series of drawings individually and in their entireity, please go visit HERE, to enjoy the Mr Jackpots style main page and links to both the original series of portraits and the new Return group.
To visit the shop and pick up one of the few remaining original pieces, please go HERE. Only about half of the new series remain, and while this is still an original art series, and as such no fixed plans for a print run of any kind, I am working with Lynch and Showtime to see about the potential for such a thing or a book. That said, it doesn’t by any means indicate a certainty of that happening, so I am fully rooted to the station at which we find ourselves now, and am eternally grateful for the support it has created in the community.
To see Showtime’s curated feature on the Twitter, please go HERE.
And as a parting gift, a super long nut-job lunacy clustering all the madness into a single picture… if I ever made a poster I think this might be the way to do it.
Greg Ruth has been working in comics since 1993 and has published work for The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster amongst many others.
He has shown his paintings in New York, Houston, and Baltimore, and exhibited a series of murals at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
He has also helped craft music videos for Rob Thomas, and Prince, and has illustrated children's pictures books including; Our Enduring Spirit (with President Barack Obama), A Pirate's Guide to First Grade (with James Preller) and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), as well as many illustrated novels.
Greg currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts.
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