Lamb's "Millennium"

Art celebrates the possiblities of new beginnings

The beginning of Christianity and the chance for people and God to start over are the central metaphors of "Millennium," a work that artist Matt Lamb presented to St. Thomas in 1996. "Millennium" will go on exhibit in the Rotunda at the Mall of America in mid-January 2000.

The piece is made up of eight panels, each eight feet wide and 12 feet tall, using concrete as the base. The piece is meant to celebrate the principles of peace, hope, tolerance, love and understanding — the basic tenets of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Since "Millennium" represents the opportunity to begin again, the work ideally should be viewed in a circle, with no beginning and no end.

Lamb’s paintings reflect the themes of life, death and rebirth. He states that his art is spiritual in nature and he "paints the experiences of God’s gifts of grace and renewal."

Symbols abound in "Millen-nium." The flowers in the piece are Lamb’s symbol for the Holy Spirit, encompassing all. The drums and flutes portray both communication and culture. A figure with a red ball could be Michael Jordan — the figures are everyone and no one, they are contemporary and from the ages of time. Overall, Lamb hopes that viewers of "Millennium" approach the art as pilgrims who realize they can change their own reality.

"My art is an exploration into that great unexplored region we call the subconscious," explained Lamb, whose paintings are featured in two dozen collections ranging from the National Treasury in Washington, D.C., to the Vatican Museum in Rome.

"During our time on earth, we are always redefining who we are, a process of give and take that involves those around us," reads Lamb’s statement as an artist. It fits his life, too. Born in 1932 in Evergreen, Ill., he graduated from Worsham College of Mortuary Science and worked in the family firm, Blake-Lamb Funeral Homes. The firm became the largest family-managed funeral home group in the Midwest.

In the early 1980s, Lamb began sketching as he recovered from a serious illness and went on to a second career, one he said was "40 years in my head."

"To express redefining in a painting, the painting must be destroyed and redone over and over again," Lamb explained. He doesn’t just put brush to canvas. He also uses blow torches and steam spray, scrapes paintings with sand, scrubs them with mineral spirits, rolls them in the ocean, runs over them with a car and applies layers and layers of paint. "The really fine things are born out of struggle," Lamb explained. "You take something you really love which you know can be better, but to make it so, it must die so the next generation may live."

Lamb is known for the emotional intensity of his work, as well as his superb color sense. His expressionistic style results in richly textured canvases in which stylized figures represent social and political issues. He also is very active in the Catholic Church and has received many business and civic awards.

When St. Thomas presented Lamb an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1996, the citation read, in part: "We are humbled by your decision to bequeath your works to the university for future generations to study and to enjoy. We know that they will find in these works and their maker a kindred spirit imbued with grace and wisdom."