ARTnews (Summer 2005)


    Every morning, 73-year-old artist Matt Lamb follows an exercise routine involving ski poles and a sand-filled backpack.  He devised the workout to keep himself fit enough to manipulate the heavy layers of wet concrete, paint, and gesso that make up what he calls his "generational" canvases.  He has produced more than 15,000 works, despite not having painted before he was 52.

    Portland-based art critic and ARTnews contributor Richard Speer's biography, Matt Lamb:  The Art of Success, published by John Wiley & Sons, chronicles the artist's unlikely ascent from hearse driver to CEO of Blake-Lamb, a family-run chain of funeral homes, to accomplished artist.

    Lamb's life took an abrupt turn in 1983 when a mistaken diagnosis of terminal liver disease -- "I thought I was going to be my own customer," he says -- inspired him to dedicate his life to painting.  Since then, Lamb's works have been shown at Westminster Cathedral, the Vatican, and Centre Picasso in Horta, Spain.  His larger canvases have fetched up to $250,000 at Judy A. Saslow Gallery in Chicago, which recently had a show of his new works.

    Speer's biography explores the symbolism of the cast of "spirits" that populate Lamb's Chagall-esque works.  It addresses the controversy surrounding his exclusion from New York's 2003 Outsider Art Fair, whose organizers questioned whether a wealthy funeral bussiness magnate qualified as an Outsider, eventually deciding that he did not.  Speer also tells of arguments with gallery owners frustrated by the painter's oversize block-letter signature.  "This is a guy who just does not think small," Speer says.

-- Paula Wasley