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The Wild and Wonderful Work of Matt Lamb
by Virginia Miller
, October 1999
Appeared in Catalogue: "Matt Lamb, Another World"

At the entrance to Matt Lamb's first exhibition in ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, I posted a sign: "This is not tame art. This is wild, crazy, wonderful work that engages the emotions and challenges the intellect of the viewer." The gallery telephone message added yet another cautionary message: "If you're not careful, these fantastic creatures, colors and forms will hold you in their spell forever!"

Like music or poetry, Lamb's paintings defy translation; their interpretation lies within the mind of the viewer. His imaginary creatures, complex surfaces, and luscious colors create synergistic combinations whose appeal often works on a subconscious level.

The creator of these works, like the abstract expressionists, can be described as a conduit for the creative spirit that resides within us all, but is released only by those individuals who are both talented and determined enough to acquire the skills for self-expression. In the case of Matt Lamb, those highly expressive skills are self-taught, which makes them all the more extraordinary.

Since 1986, Matt Lamb has held nearly 70 one­person exhibitions in leading galleries and public spaces throughout the United States, Europe, Argentina, and Mexico. His work is included in numerous prestigious collections, such as those of the Vatican Museums, Rome; the National Treasury, Washington, D.C.; the State of Illinois, Chicago; Pierre Cardin, Paris; Knoxville Art Museum, Ten­ nessee; Rockford Art Museum. Illinois; and The Spertus Museum of Judaica, Chicago.

Lamb's latest work, "Millenium Project," has three parts. Its first part, 10 paintings altogether, was unveiled at the Vatican on April 15, 1999. The second, measuring a monumental 12 by 64 feet, has been completed for the University of St.Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Another 30- by 20-foot work created for the university will travel to London, where it will become part of the spectacular final component: a series of twelve 9- by 12-foot panels to be unveiled in June 2000 at Westminster Cathedral in celebration of the millennium.

Lamb is considered a contradiction in the art world, because he is a sophisticated person who expresses his art in a naive manner. Some critics consider him an "outsider" artist and others do not, but most agree that his work is superb. I am delighted to have the opportunity to present his work to South Florida.


Matt Lamb: The Chaos of Modern Life
by Carol Damian, Ph.D. Chair, Art Department
Florida International University Miami, September 1999
Appeared in Catalogue: "Matt Lamb, Another World"

Painting can be a more immediate and direct vehicle of expression than verbal language, and for the self-taught painter, unfettered by preconceived theory and aesthetic expectations, the act of painting can often produce bold, even daring results. Matt Lamb is a self-taught artist with a freshness of imagination and audacious spirit who creates vibrant and fascinating paintings that are his personal response to
the world around him, its people, places and events. It is a modern world, an often absurd and chaotic world, and he replies to life's complexities with an uninhibited instinctive style of painting that is as physically vibrant as it is insightful.

As an autodidacht, Matt Lamb found his own way into painting late in life, after a career as a businessman, when a personal crisis drove him to dedicate all of his energies to painting. Once he started to paint in earnest, he was intention-al v far removed from the pinnacles of high art al d its traditionally finite definitions, and it is this very isolation that permits him to create images of great introspection and existential significance. Drawn from the inner depths of th. subconscious and ranging from icons of despair to passionate cries of innocent joy, the sheer pathos and melodrama of his highly personal images have a universal appeal that probably can be attributed to the childlike vision that drives their very creation. As he experiences creativity in terms of ecstasy, jubilation, frenzy, vision, delirium, anger, fear, possession, and the like, he invites our participation and desire to emulate such feelings.

The empathetic response to the chaos of mod-ern life that Matt Lamb evokes through his paintings is horn of a personal philosophy that questions life and death. His works bear frank testimony to his own expressive assessments and romantic exaggeration of ideas and events, real or imagined. As he transcends the recognizably physical and perhaps attempts to reenact a highly original spiritual creativity of his own, he is intent on revealing the higher sensibilities and tense passions that dw?Il beyond the sphere of reason. It is nature, rot reason, that plays a major metaphysical role in his ideology. The idea of nature is called upon to protest, question, comment on, and defend the positive and negative aspects of civilization.

According to the philosophy of Matt Lamb, we all are related in our natural surroundings, and with our natural surroundings, and we play different roles in action and interaction. This relationship includes the spiritual as well as the physical world, and the cycle of life and death is essential to its harmony and balance. Ile st es life as a continuum that transcends spheres of existence and is mysterious and quixotic. When death threatened to intervene and disrupt his earthly endeavors, he began to question the complex interplay between the earthly and sp+ritual spheres and his own place, indeed all mankind's place, in the universe. He sou ,ht refuge in the imaginary world of his paintings and invented a cast of characters and their remarkable environment. With a sense of wit and humor, and a fair degree of irony and a iticism, Lamb depends on his characters to bring his world out of physical chaos and into the light of a new spiritual reality.

Symbolic of this journey out of chaos, the paintings of Matt Lamb are horn like volcanic eruptions out of a magic crucible of paint, sand, cement, and other materials concocted on a "mother hoard" that is dipped, distorted, tortured, and burned with a torch to become a synthesis of disparate components. As he coarsens the oils by creating emulsions and adulterating its sensuousness with grit and tar and other non-art materials, new surfaces emerge. The textures of ancient walls, turbulent seas, far horizons, and fiery explosions appear as the backdrop for his endeavors. Extraordinary surface effects result from his obsessive interaction with subject and substance, and like a reflection of life itself, a message is revealed from within its depths that inspires the painting to continue and strange characters to emerge. Each work is a transformation of substance that produces a metamorphosis of' the physical world, from organic to inorganic, human to plant to animal, real to purely imaginary. He performs like an alchemist, changing raw materials into fervid strokes of paint that induce the emergence of his special personalities, his "family" of characters who act as surrogates or metaphors for his own subconscious and its mythic journey.

On their mythic journey from deep within the human psyche, Lamb's characters assume purely imaginative forms derived from human and animal sources. Horses and Indians, singing angels, "purple people-eaters," and dancing flowers are among the cast of creatures who perform their rituals of enchantment. He conjures up their presence from the depths of his mutilated surfaces, and they find release in their reactivated spiritual energy. These visionary images express a myriad of ideas as they metamorphosize from plant to animal to human to spiritual levels of existence. Crowded into their own imaginary world, Lamb's figures bear mask-like faces and a strange and incomplete corporeal presence. Flat, colorful, and imprecise, they become the vehicles of his exploration into such themes as duality, harmony, life and death, the environment, the cosmos, and social injustice. Just as he is compelled to comment on life itself, he frees his creatures to speak for him from the depths of the canvas. In fragmented narratives, they bring his life's experiences, with their endless quandaries, to light.

The fantastic family of Matt Lamb's imagination is placed in dialectical opposition to the civilized world, the world of logic, language, and culture itself. Dominated by mysterious natural forces, its members possess arcane and procreative powers. They can journey through the cycle of life and watch people sprout like flowers from seeds, grow, wilt, and die to become seeds again. Death and resurrection are obsessions for Matt Lamb. His creatures can chastise earth's inhabitants with stern warnings for environmental disasters and leave ominous dark specters to protect bright and verdant spaces. The story of the dispossessed becomes a chapter of the family story, symbolized by feathered headdresses and the paraphernalia of shamanic ritual. Birds fly between the earthly and heavenly realms and prod an awakening of human consciousness for the least suspecting. Angels and their tantalizing equivocation between the conceptual and the concrete move about a painting's surface and raise the illusion-reality conflict to a new, higher power. Anything is possible for Matt Lamb's family of orange horses and yellow worms; snouted humans and pink angels; taunting insects and sprouting bouquets. What they share is a strange and wonderful world of fantasy and a heartfelt philosophy of benevolence.

Matt Lamb's fantasy is created as a domain for creatures of love and harmony. Instead of codifying their presence according to high-art definitions of beauty and ugliness, he sees them as sources of spiritual illumination and gives them unique signification through strange physical attributes and relationships that can he absurd or poignant, and often both. Duality guides much of his verbal language and with astonishingly diverse approaches to artistic exploration. Matt Lamb uses the human condition as a point of departure to address such dynamics as male/female, good/evil, material/spiritual. At the same time, one must recognize the presence of many of his enigmatic creatures as representative of his own alter ego, exploring the territories of mind and spirit in a personal quest for peace and tranquility. Within Romantic thought, nature is commonly viewed as an analogue for the artistic self, the mirror image of the individual psyche and the very source of the artist's powers. Matt Lamb attempts to renew a covenant with the natural world and with spiritual forces believed to dwell there in order to express issues of universal significance.

There are no important people occupying the chaotic realm of Matt Lamb's fantasies, only important issues. Haunting the mutilated and distressed surfaces of his remarkable paintings, the guardians of earthly existence watch the progress of humanity, condemn its insensitivity, and celebrate its successes. In the spirit of hope and joy, Matt Lamb's imaginary communion with nature confronts the chaos of the modern world and resurrects it from the ashes of destruction to the heights of tranquility.


A Life-Affirming Art born of Death
by Virginia Miller, November 2001
Appeared in Catalogue: "Lamb, Peace, Tolerance, Understanding, Hope and Love"

Matt Lamb's art is based upon his unique philosophy, which has been shaped by his life in a funeral home, with death as an everyday companion. Lamb's family operated a funeral home, and when he came of age he took over the business and expanded it. For most of his adult life, he was on call 24 hours a day and when the telephone rang in the middle of the night he knew, before he picked it up, that death had come again.

Lamb grew to accept death as another phase of life's cycle, which applied to all living things: plants, animals, people, all evolved from a mating of male and female components, all grew to maturity, and all, in turn, spawned their seeds to fertilize and begin the cycle before their demise into the organic material that nurtured all life.

That philosophy and those creative forces are manifest in the art that Lamb produces with a vigor and urgency that is astonishing. At a point in life where most people would be con­ tent to coast upon their accomplishments, which in his case are extensive and significant, Lamb is driven to paint his message over and over.

That same obsession has freed him from the technical constraints of artists who enjoy more conventional training. Lamb applies a wirebrush, a blowtorch, or handfuls of sand to his paintings in a childlike freedom, sometimes achieving results that are inexplicably arresting - a grotesque figure with a powerful presence that speaks to viewers like music or poetry, beyond mere words, or a shimmering patina that other artists can only marvel at, but which could never be reproduced.

As I stated in "Another World", the catalog for Matt Lamb's first one-person exhibition at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in October 1999, the interpretation of his paintings and sculpture "lies within the mind of the viewer. His imaginary creatures, complex surfaces, and luscious colours create synergistic combinations whose appeal often works on a subconscious level."

For more than a quarter-century I have dealt in art, regularly seeing many thousands of works in actuality or as slides and photographs. I know hundreds, perhaps several thousand artists. In all my experience, I have only encountered one true visionary: Matt Lamb. His profound religious conviction and deeply felt personal philosophy have formed a foundation for his art that truly is unique.

This book is an excellent introduction to the work of this extraordinary individual, but no two-dimensional reproduction can do justice to a body of work with such a wide range of subject matter, textures and surfaces. There is no substitute for experiencing the art of Matt Lamb, which I predict will be the subject of many studies and books as the art world discovers his genius.