When you look at the paintings of Fort Worth artist Nancy Lamb, it takes a moment to orient yourself. One easily recognizes hair, faces or hands, but her paintings aren’t the head-on portraits typical of paintings throughout history. The perspective is often from above or to the side or from behind, and only after a long steady look does one recognize the scene of a socialite party or a get-together at a diner.
The inspiration for the bird’s-eye view is none other than Alfred Hitchcock, whose films often include one or two shots filmed from the ceiling. In Hitchcock’s films, the change in perspective brings out something special about a scene. It brings a sense of anxiety or signifies a moment of import; it heightens the suspense. For Lamb, the shift in perspective is eye-catching. This is what inspired her own paintings.
“I want to catch my own eye. I want to knock my own socks off,” she says excitedly.
This is not to say that Lamb’s paintings are filled with the anxiety and suspense of a Hitchcock film; the opposite is true. Her paintings are often bright and filled with as many colors as she can manage (and she can manage quite a few). Through the unique perspective of her paintings, Lamb has developed a unique perspective of people — a perspective of delight and wonder, rather than anxiety or darkness. Her paintings are an investigation and exploration of people, the things they do, the clothes they wear, the places they go.
“Why did you do this, and why did you wear that, and look at those glasses you have on!” says Lamb of her subjects. “People are the ultimate interest.”
The painter's source material comes from the parties and events that she attends, where she can usually be found lifting a camera high over people’s heads to capture the essence of a moment from above. From the thousands of photographs she takes at parties, she creates her large, colorful, vivacious paintings.
The artworks absorb the energy of the environment, both on a micro and macro scale. In her social paintings of partygoers dressed in their finery, talking to one another and drinking, we can feel the energy of the party captured in the canvas. But Lamb also attends to the energy of the world at large in her paintings.
She’s currently working on a COVID-related piece that will be exhibited at the Fort Worth Art Dealer’s Association’s Fall Gallery Night in September. Her work will be shown at Art Space 111, which represents her. The piece focuses not on the social ramifications of wearing masks and maintaining distance, but on how COVID may have originated from the abuse of animals. “It’s an image that is playful in a way, but it also is indicative of how I think we got into this big mess anyway,” says Lamb.
In the ’80’s, she was also influenced by the AIDs pandemic, during which she did a similarly shocking piece.
But, when the world is in a place of darkness, as it was during the AIDs pandemic and arguably is again now, Lamb doesn’t want to capture that darkness. Rather, the act of painting is an escape from the depression of the world, and her paintings are harbingers of light, color and playfulness.
“I want to be an agent for making things better,” Lamb says.
We all desire happiness in the world, but Lamb’s desire for feeling better in a dismal situation distinguishes her from other artists. The stereotypical artist creates because of their suffering, and they often suffer in order to create. This is not the case for Lamb.
“It’s so much easier for me to create if I’m happy. A lot of artists, they have to work through the angst, and they need a muse to appeal to them, and I’m not that way. If I feel crummy, I’m usually gonna end up in bed. I have to feel pretty good if I’m going to create.”
How does somebody dependent on happiness survive the dismal loneliness of a global pandemic? Lamb’s answer is to occasionally tune out the constant bad news and use her own little bit of happiness to spread light throughout the world.
“The unhappiness and the bickering and the people who are fearful and afraid — it’s out there and it’s palpable, and that’s hard, so I’ve tried to stay in my head a lot and do anything I can do to be comforting,” she says, describing her attempts to keep her chin up and keep painting throughout trying times.
Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, or making paintings from the thousands of photos she’s taken over the years, Nancy Lamb is figuring out how to make peace with the pandemic and find joy in its midst. If we all take a few minutes to look at her paintings, we are likely to find some joy as well.
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