The title of HBO’s “Painting With John” is a little bit of a misnomer. Yes, there’s portray. And there’s John — John Lurie, the multi-hyphenate creator and performer who moved on to visual art from music and performing years in the past, after, he says, contracting Lyme illness.
But “with”? In the six-episode sequence, which begins Friday, you’ll watch Lurie paint. You will hear him ruminate about portray and his life earlier than it, and no matter else crosses his thoughts. If you additionally need to paint, effectively, that’s your name. But don’t get your hopes up. “Bob Ross was wrong,” Lurie says, attending to a watercolor within the first episode. “Everybody can’t paint.”
Bob Ross this isn’t. This is not any quarantine-friendly, stress-free tutorial about self-expression as self-care. (“None of the trees in my paintings are happy,” he says in another reference to the public-TV artwork teacher. “They’re all miserable.”)
“Painting With John” is one other sort of creation altogether: a hypnotic, meandering, surreality-TV stroll into the knotty jungle of Lurie’s thoughts that explores residing as an artwork kind in itself.
The sequence, written and directed by Lurie and soundtracked along with his music, opens with an overhead shot of the greenery surrounding his Caribbean island residence. The viewer sails above the verdant cover, shifting nearer, nearer, too shut, till the digital camera drone that Lurie is piloting crashes right into a tree.
The opening is a metaphor for the sequence, which is a component tutorial, half autobiographical video essay. You will study a couple of issues about Lurie and his artistic course of, and you might achieve some perspective on the fantastic thing about creation, but it surely is not going to be a straight flight or a easy journey.
“Painting” is a type of religious successor to “Fishing With John,” Lurie’s bizarro outdoor present from 1991 (now out there by means of the Criterion Collection). There, the nonexpert angler Lurie took to the water with film- and music-world associates like Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits, as a deadpan narrator spun absurdist commentary. (“How deep is the ocean? Nobody really knows for sure.”) More vibes had been caught than fish.
“Painting” doesn’t have the identical parodic tone as “Fishing,” possibly as a result of, three a long time later, it could’t. In 1991, a yr after the premiere of “Twin Peaks,” it might nonetheless appear to be an astonishing subversion that one thing so surreal and unlikely as a downtown hipster’s information to fishing might make it on the air.
In the streaming, everyone-gets-a-show period, that would appear solely believable. Just final yr, HBO aired “How To With John Wilson,” a comic book D.I.Y. information that exposed itself as a humorous however profound reflection on the ache for connection. Today, a present like “Painting” may be — most likely must be — unwinkingly what it’s.
And who Lurie is, in any case, has modified, too. In the 1980s and 1990s, as a founding father of the art-jazz band the Lounge Lizards and a star of indie movies like Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise,” he was an avatar of downtown New York cool, with a long-faced noir charisma and a trademark fedora.
Now, years after shifting to his island residence, he’s a grizzled artwork dude, stalking the grounds with a Gandalf employees and a weathered depth that he each owns and mocks. “My polite smile frightens people,” he says as he debates easy methods to open the present, then grins to show it. “Painting” doesn’t have the ironic detachment of “Fishing,” however it could nonetheless chortle at itself.
There is an apparent story arc that “Painting” might have adopted: artist experiences superstar, is derailed by sickness, finds new goal in seclusion and a extra meditative artwork kind. The sequence follows that arc, however backward. Only within the final episode does Lurie discuss at size about having to surrender performing, realizing that portray “could be what music was.”
Instead, he approaches the topic in circles, with a sequence of shaggy-dog tales and reminiscences. He recollects rising up along with his brother, Evan, who grew to become his bandmate within the Lounge Lizards. He remembers how tough fame could possibly be for his buddy Anthony Bourdain. He chases a chicken that’s winged its approach into his home.
He spins tales concerning the folks he’s met in his new residence, relates private theories — he doesn’t belief anybody with no full chortle — and will get a bit of misplaced in his reminiscences. “We went to see that James Franco ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie where he has to cut off his own arm to get away,” he says, then stops himself. “Maybe I’m mixing up two movies.”
All the whereas, he paints, delicately spreading tendrils of coloration because the digital camera attends to his brush strokes so intently that you would be able to see the pigment sink into the paper.
Lurie isn’t instructing portray. But he’s instructing one thing. Patience, goal, attentiveness to your internal voice. It could seem rambling or self-indulgent at occasions. But the digressions are the purpose. The present, which at six half-hour episodes doesn’t overstay its welcome, is like an apprenticeship with a crotchety bohemian Yoda.
As for the portray itself, by the season’s finish, Lurie appears to rethink what he stated within the first episode. Go forward and paint, he says. “You’re gonna stink at the beginning,” he provides, however that’s superb.
“Just put the paint on the paper and see what you have,” he says. “It’s really worth it. It’s better than watching TV.” Though if you happen to’re going to look at one thing, you can do worse than this.