Book Review

by Richard Speer

John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2005.  356 pages, 33 photographs, Price:  $24.95.

Reviewed by William J. Frable


Mix together a great-grandson of Irish immigrant parents, birth and upbringing in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, a business gift for success in the family funeral home and other ventures, serious life-threatening medical problems at the age of 51, and a passion to paint, and you have the story of Matt Lamb as told by Richard Speer.  Speer, an Associated Press Award-winning journalist, news anchor, and critic, has put together a fascinating story of a painter willing to take the art establishment head-on, with the talent and resources to pull it off.  Speer followed Matt Lamb up close and personal for a year, interviewing the painter, his family, friends, business associates, gallery owners, critics, and supporters -- poring over letters, stories, clippings, and memorabilia of the multiple facets of the artist's life.  Speer also attended many exhibitions of the artist's work and saw first-hand his involvement in teaching the joy of artistic expression to children.  It all makes a fascinating read that is hard to put down.

"Paint?  In your spare time?" said Lamb's wife, Rose.

"No, all the time.  I'm going to get us out of debt as fast as I can, sell my half of Blake-Lamb, sell the other companies, and become a painter -- if I live," said Lamb.

Thus, after a second and favorable medical opinion from a prestigious institution, began the saga of Matt Lamb the artist.

In April 1984, the yet-to-be-painter walked into a local art store and emerged in 30 minutes with acrylic paints, brushes, and some small pre-stretched canvases.  in response to the sales clerk's questions of which medium he wished to work in, he said, "I have no idea.  Give me whatever you think I need."

Beyond this point I will not tell you much more.  It would spoil the story, and this is quite a yarn.  Suffice it to say a selected list of collections and exhibition history runs for seven pages and includes work shown and/or owned by the Centre Picasso (Horta de San Joan, Spain); the Centre Joan Miro (Mont-roig, Spain); and the Vatican Museum (Vatican City).  The artist maintains studios in Chicago, Paris, the Florida Keys, Ireland, and Germany.

What of the work?  It seems to have evolved in many directions that focus on color, surfaces, and figures from the imagination of the artist.  There is a significant influence of Picasso and Chagall, as the artist admits.  See for yourself.  Visit the website of Matt Lamb at  Whatever your response to the artist, one thing is for sure -- Matt Lamb won't give a hoot!

WILLIAM J. FRABLE, M.D., is professor of pathology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, and an avid amateur painter.