[Artist at Work] David Lambert

The paintings of Jackson artist David Lambert have received acclaim in cities across the country for their spontaneity, exuberance and raw energy. The characters that populate his works are often depicted in strange, dreamlike situations, illustrating the psychoanalytical principle of free association.

Some of Lambert's most recent paintings can be found at Bryant Galleries. Other works are in museum collections such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (New Orleans), Morris Museum of Art (Augusta, Ga.) and the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum (Biloxi). Lambert has also exhibited in museum shows at the Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis) and the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans.)

Lambert, 43, met with me to discuss his recent paintings and collages as well as his beginnings. Lambert was an Air Force brat who moved to McComb, where his grandparents lived, as a senior in high school. He went to Delta State, then Ole Miss. Not long afterward, Lambert became manager of Bryant Galleries, a job he still holds.

How did your career as an artist come about? Were there indications while you were growing up?

Well, I was born in Alaska and grew up on Air Force bases. As a kid I would draw for hours on end, and I would doodle characters during classes at school. One of my early influences was comic books and Sunday funnies. When I was 12, I created a comic book with a character called Captain Banana. It was easy for people to baby-sit me because I spent so much time drawing. After high school. I went to Delta State and then on to Ole Miss to get an MFA in painting. Ole Miss gave me lots of freedom, and my painting style quickly evolved there. That's when I started to paint on wood.

After college, was it difficult to break into the field?

Well, you have to have a strong constitution to put your works out there over and over, and that's why it's important to know in your heart that it's good. Some people might not understand what you're trying to do. There are a lot of galleries out there, and they all have different personalities and clientele, so I've found that it's best to paint for myself rather than to anticipate someone else's taste.

There is a lot of humor in your paintings. For instance, your placement of a drunk in a bar confiding to an angel. Why do the people who inhabit them find themselves in such odd and sometimes absurd circumstances?

I like unexpected combinations and, of course, I like narrative. That's probably why people find the paintings humorous. I try to engage the mind of the viewer to see things from a new perspective. The elements that usually aren't found together create new perspective and mystery. Like that moment on a roller coaster when you have climbed the hill, but before you plunge down. That feeling of floating and not being sure what's going on.

So there is always something to contemplate. Never just one answer.

We humans like mystery. There's something magnetic about it.

Your collages have also attracted a lot of attention, but why are they usually smaller than the paintings?

The viewer has to get physically closer to the smaller works, and so it tends to be a more personal experience. It's a totally different experience for the viewer—more intimate and personal.

Which artists have inspired you?

Oh, Alexander Calder, for sure. And the expressionists like Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, and the surrealists. I like the idea of an image that tells a story, the tension of knowing that something has happened and something will happen. See Lambert's art at Bryant Galleries' new location at 3010 Lakeland Cove off Lakeland Drive.

Jay Fleming is an artist and writer in Jackson.


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