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A Magazine for Sheffield
MAGNUS 2013 125 x 118cm charcoal and pastel on paper CROP

It’s always a pleasure to return to an artist we have featured in the past. In the case of London-based Alison Lambert, it was June 2011 (NT#39), perhaps my favourite ever issue of Now Then. For our seventh birthday magazine, we thought we’d invite Alison and her stunning charcoal drawings back onto these pages.

It’s almost four years since we last featured your work in Now Then. What has happened in that time?

I suppose the main things are the sale of a drawing to the V&A collection, inclusion in their book, The Art of Drawing: British Masters and Methods Since 1600, and the sale of two monotype prints to the British Museum print collection. I also had prints selected for the 2014 International Print Biennale in Newcastle.

Which artists were the inspiration for the style you have developed?

Initially, 30 years ago when I first developed a style of my own, it was the artisans who made the ancient Greek and Roman sculpture we are all so familiar with. Around the same time I was influenced by some artists of the Romantic period - Delacroix, Velázquez, Géricault and Goya. Later, the paintings of Christopher Le Brun, De Chirico and Gérard Garouste. Since the early years, I haven’t really been influenced by any artist. My style has evolved gradually of its own volition.

What themes and subjects are you exploring through your work?

My early work was inspired by Greek and Roman mythology and I suppose a feel for those mythic themes has always stayed with me, even though I’m not trying to illustrate old classical stories. I’ve also regularly used biblical and ancient Hebrew names, but names are usually selected after a drawing is finished. I think the names I choose just help to distance the work so it doesn’t appear as if I’m portraying contemporary characters.

I’ve called my latest solo exhibition ‘Human Presences’ to indicate that I’m trying to express the ‘inner world’ of humans, whatever that inner world might be. It’s something out of reach that psychologists, philosophers, theologians, novelists often try to tap into.

You seem to focus a great deal on the human head as a subject. Why?

The head and face are the outward expression of the inner life. Through the drawings I try to tap something that’s deeply subjective about the head (or ‘person’) that I’m describing. Hopefully, as far as expression and communication are concerned, people who look at the drawings will get the feeling that there is something there that’s more than just the charcoal on paper or the description of a head or face. It’s that human interaction that I’m interested in.

Your work is very physical. How do you think it translates to the screen?

The screen is only a depiction of the picture, like a photograph. It’s completely different from the direct experience of the object. That’s why students are encouraged to visit museums and galleries to directly experience the physicality of art works. In my case the direct experience of the broken and fragmented surface of the drawing is necessary. It’s a metaphor for a kind of distancing and contemporary critique of traditional illusionistic portraiture. It’s saying, ‘This might look like a person, but it’s actually a drawing’. In fact it’s both, but the visual illusion has to be broken by the surface. It’s part of what might be described as ‘critical modernism’.

For me the art work has to have a direct physicality, like a tree or a rock that shares the world with the viewer on a physical level.

What do you have planned for 2015? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?

I’ve had a solo show at the Coningsby Gallery, London with Jill George Gallery and there will be a forthcoming solo exhibition in September at the Pasmore Gallery, Harrow School. I have print shows in London (April) and New York (November) with Pratt Contemporary Art. Harrow will be producing a substantial catalogue which I’m currently working on with the designers. Beyond November, I don’t know where I’ll be exhibiting but I’ll be continuing working. I might even be doing some painting - traditional oil on canvas, of course.

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