Artist Profile Story by Sarah Gonzales
Imagine a classical oil painting studio – wooden palettes, crinkled metal tubes of paint, jars of brushes, collapsible easels that strap to the back for hiking out to mountain meadow vistas along with a wooden box for painting en plein air at Denali National Park each summer. You'll find these age old implements in a modern, upstairs bedroom-studio in Anchorage. This is where Carol Lambert creates landscapes and still life in the classical oil painting technique. "I'm strictly 18th-century," she says.
The space also contains a variety of beloved objects all waiting for their still life close-ups – green powerline insulators on the windowsill, blue-purple mallard feathers on the wall, machine parts on the floor. These worn, aged and rusted things will become beautiful, focused and interesting when Lambert renders them near-perfect, flaws and all, in oil paint.
To observe her work with its accuracy of detail and attention to authentic hue is to understand that this pursuit requires the utmost concentration. "I'm a very focused person and I really can compartmentalize," she says. That skill comes in handy because Carol Lambert the artist is also Dr. Lambert the psychologist in private practice. "There's not much difference, for me, between the two areas," she says. "I think of psychology as a philosophical field and I think of painting and the arts as having a strong philosophical side."
Lambert has lived all over the world, including England and Finland as a child, the daughter of an Air Force attaché. While in college she lived in Paris for a time. From these travels she's developed a unique world-view. "There are a lot of ways to be a person," she comments.
Lambert's grandfather was a classically trained artist and political cartoonist for the Chicago Sun and the Baltimore Sun and her grandmother received a degree in medical illustration from Johns Hopkins University in 1918. "From him I got humor and from her I got detail," she says. The studio at the top of the stairs in their "gingerbread Victorian" house so deeply moved Lambert as a 5-year old child that she knew then that art was her calling. "I'd never been to a room where the whole purpose was to make sculptures and drawings and paintings and I just thought, I want that – that's what I'm going to do!"
From the age of 5 to 22, Lambert pursued art, eventually earning an art degree from Brown University. But from her early 20s to 1999, "my life took some ups and downs," she says. She had a son, her husband grew ill and died, she married again, moved several times, and earned a master's degree and a PhD.
"The day I did my dissertation defense, somehow I found myself with six hours to kill in Los Angeles. I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I wandered around there and I said: 'I'm done with the PhD project and now it's time to get back to this project that I started when I was 5 years old,' " she remembers.
She did get back to art, starting with pencil drawings of interesting objects she'd found or been given – a baby eagle skull from a beach, a feather, shards of pottery, shells from Florida. "And then I decided to try oil painting because I'd tried it before and I was terrible at it," she recalls. "I found myself wasting paint and I thought, 'well, this is no good! I need some instruction.' "
She received instruction from an art school in Seattle and has been painting, and now teaching painting, ever since. She's started up weekend classes in classical oil techniques at the Upstairs Studio in downtown Anchorage. Often, she says, when people view a photorealistic oil painting, "they'll say: 'I could never do that,' and what I have to say to them is: 'You could do it!' Human beings have been doing this for hundreds of years."
She makes regular trips to cities like Seattle and New York where she takes classes, visits museums to see the Old Masters, and meets new artists and views their work. It's these human connections, past and present, that keep her inspired – whether helping a person move forward with their life in counseling, creating her own art or teaching a student to paint, Lambert says. "It's amazing what human beings are capable of doing."