One might suspect looking at the murals hanging in the Durango Arts Center that Edward Lambert, who painted them, must be one of the tattooed men in his imagery. But Lambert, according to all published reports, has not one tattoo. The former professor of art from the University of Georgia is just fascinated by the imagery.
Lambert’s 95-inch by 50-inch canvases are created by scanning images from magazines, photographs of tattooed bodies and images from art history into a computer, then enlarging them up until they get grainy and pixilated like a woodcut print.
He’s looking for dots and lines that can be used to print a silk screen. The enlarged images are applied to a screen, covered with photo emulsion and exposed to ultraviolet light, which transfers the image to the screen. Then, like painting on glass, he builds the color and image backward, by first putting down on canvas the focal elements that will be closest to the viewer. He uses polymer based pigments and a squeegee to apply layers of pigment, sometimes as many as 10-15 layers.
The use of the squeegee provides a semi-circular texture to the canvases, most notable on the intensely hued pieces like “Celtic Illustrations” (no price). In this canvas, images from the Book of Kells are used to create elaborate frames around repeating images of two men with full-body tattoos. A detailed Celtic illustration is enlarged in the second of four frames. The deep scarlet and violet color is reminiscent of illuminated texts. The dragons and scrolls on the tattooed bodies, while not Celtic, seem to take on the same imagery as the Book of Kells.
Lambert uses only black-and-white in other images. “Illusions/Bobby’s Backs and Belts” ($1,600) is a long canvas with five rectangles outlined in a black-and-white chevron pattern. Each image is of a man’s back, fully tattooed with motorcycles, dragons, figures, text, scrolls.
I was drawn to the iconography of “Spiritual Sentinel” ($1,400). This canvas features a sage-green background and black-and-white images of a man with a goatee and a T-shaped tattoo on his chest that looks like a maze. On his forehead is a square with repeating lines of black and white, a pattern found in Egyptian iconography. Overlaying the black-and-white figures are color images. Then Egyptian statues are lined up like sentinels over the remaining images.
Another inspiration for Lambert’s work comes from architectural decoration. In “Deco Dude” ($1,000), the background is scrolled pillars of art-deco design, and in the foreground is a man, whose tattoos in contrasting blues and greens mimic the red-and-orange design, down to the floral-looking circle on his hip.
The delicate, colorful dragon tattoo in “Tattoo Totem” ($1,600) is enthralling. On first glance, the large canvas is black and white with stacked images of tattooed bodies: the back of a round, sitting man, the front of a man in a chair, the back of a standing figure in the middle and then another round sitting man, topped by a man in a chair. The canvas sports three identical totems, but in the middle totem is a flash-art dragon.
The work is layered. Tattoo upon tattoo upon tattoo and Lambert’s choice of screen-printing allows him to capture the micro pigmentation that creates actual tattoo art. It isn’t atavistic. It’s reverence for the use of the human body as a canvas for self-expression. The entire show could be summed up in the title of one of Lambert’s canvases: “A tattoo is a common man’s way of appreciating art.”