PARIS (Reuters) - Behind the doors of a 19th-century printworks in south-central Paris, filmmaker and painter-by-training David Lynch takes a cigarette break after hours of etching abstract shapes and twisted limbs onto stone and wood.
Although best known for dark, surreal movies such as "Eraserhead", "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Drive", Lynch was an artist before he began filmmaking and since 2007 has been using the Idem workshop as his studio in Paris, creating some 170 lithographs and engravings.
As three workshop staff clamber onto one of the six giant mechanical presses to print up a fresh design, Lynch - dressed in a blue apron and sporting his trademark white, bouffant hairdo - explains that there is something uniquely inspiring about the Parisian printworks.
"This is totally Parisian. In people's dream of Paris, this place would fit in that dream perfectly," the 66-year-old tells Reuters, speaking above the noise of the whirling cogs and hand-operated cranks that he says remind him of the twisted, industrial world of his debut feature film "Eraserhead".
"Everybody that comes to this place, they feel it...I can feel the past. I can feel the whole art of life going on here."
Artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Miro all had their prints produced at the site, a two-floor workshop built in 1880 that is still in use today by artists including Lynch. Encircled by piles of engraving-stones and the odd stuffed toy panther, the presses can also print from digital files.
Lynch's prints - which he says he etches from scratch after "catching" an idea in his mind - vary from Keith Haring-esque red-and-white squiggles and doodles to ghostly Edvard Munch-like humans stranded in desolate landscapes, with titles like "Things In Air Over City" or "Oh, A Bad Dream Comes".
They seem to combine the black-and-white, nightmarish imagery of "Eraserhead" and "The Elephant Man" with the abstract, surreal narratives of Lynch's last two movies, 2001's "Mulholland Drive" and 2006's "Inland Empire".
Lynch has explored other media over the past decade, creating a series of animated shorts posted online called "Dumbland", directing a Duran Duran concert streamed on YouTube and even recording his own solo album called "Crazy Clown Time".
He has even adapted his trademark palette of dark tones and surreal shapes to French tastes, designing a limited edition of Dom Perignon champagne bottles as well as an underground nightclub in the center of Paris called "Silencio".
Despite his obvious enthusiasm for trying out new things, Lynch's affection for Paris comes from its protection of tradition.
"I like the way the French people live. They protect the arts more than any other country," he says. "Here, almost every avenue of life is like an art form."
In a seemingly upside-down world where governments and bankers are suffering from the financial crisis but where big-name artists are fetching higher prices than ever before, Lynch says that he can still separate the urge to make money from the urge to make art.
"It's like Hollywood versus the art way," he says. "I love money for getting things to work and to live. But it's not the reason in my mind to make a film or to make anything."
Asked what his next move is going to be, Lynch says he will continue to work on music and art but adds that there is a movie idea also in the pipeline.
"Music and painting and maybe cinema, but we'll have to wait and see," he says. "Maybe it's going to happen but you need to be deeply in love and, you know...I'm falling in love."
(Reporting by Lionel Laurent, editing by Paul Casciato)