Matt Lamb

ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries, Miami

by Richard Speer

    Nobody puckers like Matt Lamb.  The self-taught artist, working with mutually repulsive media like oil- and water-based paints, gesso, linseed oil, turpentine, and concrete, achieves weirdly pocked, puckered, and nuggetty surfaces that often evoke Yves Klein’s RE series.  In “Evolution of a Vision,” it becomes clear that Lamb’s virtuosic riffs on surface topography are his work’s guiding force and principal appeal.

    A former funeral-home magnate, Lamb is known for both his naïve, figurative oils and his hotly contested status as an Outsider artist (his controversial ouster from the 2003 Outsider Art Fair made headlines in The Wall Street Journal and Reason.)  But “Evolution...” makes a compelling case that it is Lamb’s wild way with surface, not his Six Feet Under-meets-Dynasty backstory, that has established him as a painter who transcends category.

        An untitled work in the show turns a giant dollop of wrinkled, crinkled paint into a male figure’s hat, while another uses a sinfully luxuriant impasto, applied with whiskbroom, as a figure’s hair.  Time after time, Lamb blends technique and subject matter in similarly improbable and sometimes jaw-dropping fashion.  His cast of characters—dogs, fishes, elephants, and human/animal/plant hybrids that the artist believes are shadows of another dimension—frequently recall Chagall but bear more direct comparison to contemporary painter Florence Putterman.  In another vein, a floral still life whose volcanic vase spews blossoms, greenery, and ghostly figures, attests to the painter’s bravura take on the idiom, informed by the obsessive zeal with which he used to arrange funeral bouquets.  Departing from primary colors, Lamb favors a coral palette this go-round, with infusions of mint green and thrilling passages in silver leaf.

        One only wishes the show had delved more deeply into the artist’s recent foray into abstraction.  Selectively abandoning his highly recognizable, but to some tastes cloying, iconic figures, Lamb has of late produced dynamic gestural work similar to the nebular striations of Australia’s Samantha Hobson and Santa Fe’s Carol Kucera.  Although naïve as a figurative artist, Lamb is highly sophisticated as a neo-Expressionist, and his newest work may prove the most important of his career.

—Richard Speer