Sitting on one of Emily Noelle Lambert’s free-form, functional sculptures and surrounded by other found wood sculptures, huge canvases, and smaller paintings tucked around her Heart Heat exhibition at Lu Magnus, I had the distinct feeling that I entered into the artist’s personal world, a place where color, form, and balance skillfully link the two and three dimensional art objects all around. Given free reign of the Lu Magnus’s Lower East Side gallery space for two weeks prior to the opening of the exhibition, Lambert constructed almost all of the large sculptures on site.
Heart Heat is filled with as many sculptures and paintings as Lambert could squeeze in the gallery without making it feel claustrophobic. At first glance, the sheer amount of work can be overwhelming. The exhibition is not a show that the average viewer could quickly see and appreciate. I had to sit in the exhibition for awhile before I began to notice various playful details that linked together the wide variety of Lambert’s work.
The beauty of Lambert’s art lies in her talent in finding a perfect balance in both her sculptures and paintings, which could easily become too chaotic with her vibrant, sometimes contrasting color choices, her heavily layered paintings, and the various objects she incorporates into her sculptures.
Constructed from bits of found wood given to her by family, friends, and neighbors, as well as other random objects such as rocks from an artist’s studio in Mexico to a rope from the broken elevator in her studio that are placed on her sculpture “Passage” (2012), the sculptures become a physical manifestation of her own personal history.
“Some of the wood was from West Virginia,” Lambert says. “My dad lives there in a little cabin half of the year and he built their cabin with old pieces of wood. Some of it was from 100 year old beams from Pittsburgh [where Lambert was born]. Some of it was from New York. The buoys are from Long Island. Right by my studio, there is a set design place and they were building a big cabin for the Great GoogaMooga Festival. They were throwing away all thse cut offs. It’s a big collection of wood from all over the place.”
Perhaps because of my own Pittsburgh origins and my affection for the aesthetics of dilapidated and abandoned steel plants, I am drawn to the way Lambert uses industrial materials in a more cheerful and vibrant way.
Creating large sculptures for the first time, Lambert first painted the wooden pieces in order to visualize how to construct the sculptures. Her sculptural color choices help to establish a relationship between her three dimensional work and her paintings. Standing at various places in the gallery, the viewer’s eye bounces across the room, noticing some of the same colors repeating elsewhere, allowing the viewing experience to become interactive.
Like her sculptures, which display Lambert’s own personal history through the origins of their materials, her paintings also record experiences. “Be My Wagon Wheel” (2012) is completely layered with forms of people, blocks of colors, and hidden in the corner are song lyrics from Lou Reed’s “Be My Wagon Wheel.” At first glance, I did not even notice the ghostly face at the top center right of the painting, which was actually from another figure that Lambert had planned but painted over, leaving only the remains of the delicate, skeletal face. “It’s a collection of moments, not necessarily one concise moment in time but returning again and again to layer of story, layer of history and emotive response with the material,” she says.
Not only connecting the two and three dimensional through color choices and layers of experience, the forms within the paintings themselves reflect the same angles and balance as the sculptures. In Lambert’s selectively sparse “Rose Mountain” (2012) the raw canvas is visible, the angle of the bright yellow flag mirrors the angle of the wooden pieces in the “Untitled” (2012) sculpture that stands directly beside the painting. These links in form, angle, and balance can be found throughout Heart Heat, making the viewing experience an entirely immersive one.
Heart Heat felt like I was wandering through one of Lambert’s paintings, utterly surrounded by her sense of color and form. For me, the experience of viewing art should be a continual process and in Lambert’s work, I was able to spend time noticing different details from a splash of pink paint under a piece of wood to a small drawing perched on one of the sculptures. Her playful ability to translate her painting skills into sculpture and vice versa, which constructed a look inside an artist’s world within the gallery space, was exhilarating and inexhaustibly fascinating, making Heart Heat one of the most exciting exhibitions I’ve seen this year.