“Painting with John” is an artistic meditation that you should experience for yourself

[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]

Where to watch “Painting with John”: HBO Max

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I don’t envy the person who has to write the descriptions for the episodes of “Painting with John”. It is true that “John recounts how he and his brother’s obsession with John Coltrane’s ‘Live at Birdland’ resulted in an unhappy Sunday breakfast” is an accurate statement about the content of the third episode. But a few words summing up a few distinct anecdotes from John Lurie’s life are a drop in the pond of the things that make this show really worth it.

Whether you know Lurie as an actor, musician or painter, “Painting with John” works almost best if you are unaware of his other work or if you can claim that he is a mystical sage related to the forest. which dispenses ideas about the nature of creativity to anyone who will listen.

There is no set format for the show. Some episodes are more focused on the new watercolors that Lurie paints in his home studio. Others spend more time following him as he walks through the surrounding plants, creating his own brand of experimental family films featuring him as an elephant or watching an old tire roll down a hill or talking. at the moon.

The show swings between the absurd and the sublime, arguing for the power of art one minute, then happily overturning that idea the next. There is a common thread of Lurie struggling to make sense of his fame, be it his own or that of other notable television painters or other industry people blessed (or cursed) for being telegenic. . He looks straight into the barrel of the camera, not one to suffer from inauthenticity but also very willing to pierce his own image. (The continuing pile of drones sacrificed in the name of an opening streak is perhaps the biggest clue.)

Lurie’s unpredictability here isn’t that of a chaotic cowardly cannon. He channels this intensity into his paintings, leading to works that grab your attention in the same way as his stories and reflections. Their titles (“Bobo didn’t believe in evolution, so God turned him into a flower”) suggest how able he is to wink at the whole exercise, even if you see the care taken in the creation of these six episodes and the acts of creation exhibited.

As a writer and director, he also knows how to keep this from being pure indulgence. Even when DP Erik Mockus captures Lurie’s brush at work, there’s usually a little hint of push, the feeling that it’s still more than just watching a man practice his skills. He pays very little attention to the details, working instinctively before the paint decides to focus on nearby spots on the rag paper.

It’s been 30 years since Lurie tried another season of participatory storytelling as a documentary. “Fishing with John,” which followed his boat trips on the waterways of several continents, was accompanied by an on-screen partner he could joke with. “Painting with John” is a much more lonely exercise, a fitting arrival in the first weeks of 2021 but which doesn’t need lockdown conditions to captivate.

Pair it with: The podcast “The Lonely Palette” doesn’t have the same sage and curmudgeon vibe, but it’s a listening experience that manages to grapple with like-minded ideas of why art makes us feel a certain way. Both an introduction to art history and a creative experience, host Tamar Avishai’s in-depth dives into iconic and little-known museum pillars will also make a welcome reframing.

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