Claire Lambe’s precise and vivid portraits are tonic, especially in the rather complacent aesthetic befuddlement of Woodstock or almost any other art colony. She paints the faces of her friends, neighbors, relatives, and does so with a kind of elevating grace, so that without any flattery, without any deception, the faces involved seem to belong to those kinds of beings that the ancient Romans said walked an inch or two above the ground. The Romans had a word for it, incedere: to walk the way gods walk; even though her models, the Woodstock people, the friends, the relatives, walked as we do, one weary foot after another on the ground. 

I was visiting an exhibition of her work one day, and was impressed by both the beauty, friendliness and character she found in those faces, again without flattery, the simple act of discovery, as it seemed. And as I looked I began to notice something that struck me as rather peculiar:  in all the faces, in all the pictures, the philtrum seemed to be central, seemed to be somehow the unwobbling pivot, Pound would have called it, against which the picture gathered. The philtrum is the lovely soft indentation or groove right beneath the nose on the upper lip. When we see a philtrum well defined in someone’s face, we usually tend to think that face beautiful. I think Claire Lambe discovered the secret of the philtrum. And that was all the more powerfully brought to me when I came to the end of the row of pictures on the wall, and there was the picture of a woman I had actually met, Claire’s daughter, Zoe. Zoe’s face, quite a handsome, English face, was there on the wall, somehow transformed magically: the philtrum defined, precise, gentle, soft, yielding, architectural, like a wave cresting in the sea. The philtrum at the very center of the experience, and out from it the face seemed built. A remarkable picture.

Robert Kelly is a novelist, poet, and professor at Bard College. In 2016/17, he was the Poet Laureate for Dutchess County in the State of New York. Mr. Kelly serves as Asher B. Edelman Professor of Literature and Co-Director of the Program in Written Arts at Bard College; he is often referred to as "the bard of Bard."  For more about Robert Kelly, please go HERE


The human face, a source of endless fascination, is imprinted on us from day one - we are humans after all. From that first day of life, we are programmed to search out the human form from all of the other shapes and forms in our infantile fields of vision. As parents, we are programed to gaze and marvel at the face of our newly-born off-spring. Yes, for the miracle of him or her but also, I am certain, to aid in that imprinting so necessary for the successful survival of the new human. The naked face is an ever-changing thing, an endless source of intrigue and mystery.

In painterly terms, the process of reaching for the form is both intuitive and formal; it is an intense, in the moment, experience that requires deep and deliberate observation. As one enters and becomes subsumed by the painting, subtle angles, shapes and colors reveal themselves—the most exciting of which are often found in the shadows. My aim when painting a portrait is to solve the visual puzzle and illuminate, but not necessarily solve, its mystery - that would be presumptuous. And, with each work, to locate something of the universal in the individual through that intense study the process entails.


In the academic year of 2016/2017, I spent 11 months in Berlin as a guest of the Wissenshaftskolleg zu Berlin (Wiko) - Institute for Advanced Study - where my partner, novelist Carey Harrison, was a Fellow. During that year, I partnered with a fellow artist, Susan Ossman, to produce work inspired by our respective experiences in Berlin. At the end of that year, the Wiko hosted a two-person of that work in their main building in Grunewald in West Berlin. Subsequently, Susan and I produced a catalog of the exhibition which is available HERE Following is a text, an artist's statement if you will,  written for the catalog and revised for this website. To see the art work referenced in this essay, go HERE.      

Berlin is, for many, a city of displacement. In the past, it has estranged citizens, exporting many to places of horror and, as the monument at Gleis 17 in Grunewald tells us, sometimes to the unknown – “Unbekannt.” Now, in the present, the city offers thousands of strangers – Unbekannte– refuge from places of horror. At the Wissenschaftskolleg (Wiko), a very different form of displacement happens that illustrates another side of Berlin; a side for which the city was reputed long before the Wars: the hosting of scholars, often strangers to Germany, in the pursuit of knowledge.  It is these dichotomies that I explore in the work I undertook  in Berlin, in a set of large drawings in graphite and smaller works in ink, and digitally in jackets for books “not yet written” – titles solicited from the Wiko Fellows of works that they might one day write if time or another life-time allowed.

The drawings in ink, collectively entitled The Listeners, are works of observation executed during the weekly colloquia the Wiko Fellows gave. What began as doodles became a full-on project especially after the election of Donald Trump in the USA. In a world where listening is in an increasingly short supply, Lambe was struck by the intense listening by the Fellows and their partners and colleagues at the colloquia and the search for truths, be they scientific, social, or political, of the speakers.

The center of my work in the exhibition at the Wiko was a triptych of large drawings entitled, Reiseziel Unbekannt  (Destination Unknown) which was inspired by the duality I experienced in this city - the grim history that is ever present and the new story that is being written today. I was struck by the welcome given to refugees fleeing from the war-torn countries of the middle-east and the monument to the Holocaust at my local U-Bahn (city train) station in Grunewald and platform 17 (Gleis 17) from where Jews had been exiled from their homes and, in so many cases, from the earth. There the original platform has been replaced by one made of large bronze plates. Each plate details, in high relief, the deportation (evacuation – evakuiert – was the word used at the time) that occurred on a particular date, as follows: date/number of Jews evacuated/place of embarkation/destination. The majority of destinations were to Theresianstadt, Lodz, and Auschwitz. But there were three plates where the destinations were unknown – unbekannt in German. For me, these three were the most heart-breaking signifying, as they do, people lost in the mists – disappeared without a trace. It brought to mind the thousands who boarded ships in my native Ireland for the New World during the years of the Great Hunger, the so-called famine, of the mid-1800s; ships recently retired from the African slave trade. Most were people who had no choice but to leave, and others were forcibly exiled, often never to be heard from again. Many didn’t survive the voyage, as their African predecessors hadn’t.

Now in 2017, our time, that such forced diasporas are in theprocess of being created with hundreds of thousands fleeing from middle-eastern countries, particularly from Syria, and from Central America is a parallel that can't be ignored. Again, we see people leaving their homeland in search of shelter abroad, now carrying their worldly goods in backpacks and plastic bags to destinations unknown and unknowable futures. Although their fate is more assured than those commemorated at Gleis 17, nevertheless some have not survived the voyage on the Aegean to Greece and, at the time of writing, we have yet to learn about the casualties of the Central American caravan. Germany is one of the few countries that has opened its arms to welcome refugees and, in doing so, has gone some way to atone for its own terrible history.  These were the considerations going through my mind as I planned and executed these drawings.

Structure/Nature Exhibition at Cross Contemporary Art, April 2, 2016 Saugerties, New York


In 2015/2016 my partner, Carey Harrison, and I spent four months in Costa Rica. My agenda to make a new body of work for a scheduled exhibition at Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties, New York. I had been painting portraits fairly consistently for a number of years, and wanted to take a breather from that and maybe take a more macro view of the world. Having tried a few different locations in the Costa Rica, including a month at Lake Arenal, we eventually settled on the Guanacaste region. While there, I began to notice a number of large shadowy structures half hidden by growth in lots of land between the road-way and the beach. I discovered that these were partially built apartment blocks that were abandoned when funds to complete them ran out. And, yet, new condo complexes were in the process of construction. One such, that Carey and I visited - or, more accurately, were roped into visiting - was called "360 Splendor del Pacifico Residences" - it was being built on the top of a large rocky hill overlooking the ocean and the beautiful beach, Playa Flamingo. The promise to potential buyers was that they would own the view, all 360 degrees of it - hence "360". The developer is an American, Ed Podolak, a former pro-football player. It was he who gave us the guided tour and on whom the figure in the painting "Midas" is based. It was difficult not to feel sad about the appropriation of so much of this beautiful landscape. In the meantime, the local population don't seem to be getting rich - no, they seem to be getting pushed further back away from the beaches and into the jungle. When we saw "360" in 2016, it was just a building-site, a half-constructed raw thing growing out of the rock, with rebar reaching for the stars. The construction site began to obsess me and I wondered if this would one day also be a monster albatross, a ghost resort, and blight on the sky-line, and it became the focus of the work I produced in Costa Rica. As it happens, "360 Splendor del Pacifico Residencies" did get finished and this is it now: click HERE. And one can rent an apartment there for $250 a night...

On your left is a short video interview by Marty Korn, in my studio in Woodstock, about my work in Costa Rica. The interview was made while I was  completing work for the exhibition at Cross Contemporary Art in Saugerties, New York. The main focus of the interview is on the project, titled "360," explaining how that came about.

Following is an extract from the novel

"Camera Obscura"

by Robert Kelly, novelist, poet, and Professor at Bard College

- Writings

Below is a video interview with Claire Lambe by Marty Korn

in her studio on the subject of Claire's work from Costa Rica.