Staff profile: No 'mystery' to Lambert’s success

By Leslie Kostal
January 12, 2012

 Brian Lambert

Paul Mayne/Western News


In search of human interest stories, two men working for Global Television were traveling on the Emerald Isle. They see a painting in a small village pub. As the two discuss the likeness to the exterior of the building, the tavern keeper asks where they’re from. When they disclose they’re Canadians, he removes the picture to reveal the artist.

It’s by Brian Lambert, McIntosh Gallery collections manager.

“I see mystery in everything,” Lambert says. “It’s looking at things that you don’t necessarily understand. It’s like (my) story of being in Istanbul.”

During a trip to Turkey’s largest city, Lambert remembers leaving his hotel room in Old Istanbul at midday and taking note of some tough talk from the manager toward two African gentlemen. “Things didn’t seem to be going that well,” he says.

Later, while traveling in Germany, he was chatting with a new acquaintance when it became clear another ‘mystery’ had taken place. It seems the two had been in Istanbul at the same time – at the same place.

“We were going to stay in this one place in Old Istanbul,” says his German friend, “and we were waiting in line. But there were these two African guys being given a hard time. …”

Yes, Brian Lambert lives a life a mystery. And he has attempted to capture it in his work.

Lambert’s artistic challenge is to create work that’s more abstract and expressive, “because to do things realistically is no real discipline for me. It’s my default,” he says. He began by creating works that were more photographic, including courtroom drawings in Toronto for the famous Guy Paul Morin trial.

“What really fascinates me in my artwork is the visage, the face. There’s body language and that, but the face is what really interests me. How does that express what they’re thinking or feeling?”

Lambert enjoys studying subjects in restaurants where he takes the time to familiarize himself with the owners and patrons. When able, he’ll use that space to write or draw.

“I almost always start with a face and try to see in the face where it’s going and then the body has to somehow reflect that. If it’s a disturbed image, the body will be angular and exaggerated. If it’s calm, the body will be simple lines,” he explains. 

It’s the expressions he’s after, attempting to represent emotion. Lambert doesn’t always know the people in his art, but tends to believe most of his subjects are a part of himself, even though there’s no resemblance.

Lambert says there’s something about the rawness of water colour he enjoys. For his latest exhibition, held at Strand Fine Art Services in October, his bigger works are done with chalk pastels.

“If you charge up a brush,” he explains, “there’s only so much paint on it. There’s only so far you can go, whereas with chalk, it’s continuous. You don’t have to take the chalk off the page.”

In high school, Lambert showed a talent for leatherwork. As an employee of a tailor specializing in custom leather goods, he made bags for women, saddlebags for bikers, belts and sandals. He remembers one customer requesting a pair of sandals in which to hide a Canadian passport to free a friend in Russia.

Many of his smaller sculptures integrate leather, wood and found metals from discarded parts of machinery. Lambert is best known for his large sculptures which incorporate electronics, but “because they tend to be expensive to make and nobody can fit them in the living room, they end up in storage,” he says.  “I’ve sort of vowed to move away from that kind of sculpture as much as I enjoy making them.”

Another piece of Lambert’s ongoing work is his graphic comic book, Songs for the Chameleon.

“The thing I’m most passionate about is teaching myself to be more elastic,” he says.

The chameleon idea is about the ability to change or stretch. An opening sequence is a woman who dreams she’s a bird, flying through darkness and eventually morphs into a singer on stage.

“And being on stage is really key because I like being on stage,” Lambert says.

Raised in a musical family, the bass and sax player has been a band member since his youth, playing gigs and creating pieces for radio and soundtracks for small films.

“You get a community of people working on the same kinds of things. So there’s sax and there’s bass and there’s a lot of electronics and its fun,” he says.

Lambert believes the two hardest things are starting and finishing.

What he enjoys about art as a discipline is the freeing up of oneself. “So you can move ahead,” he says, “and not be stuck in the morass of familiarity. As nice as that is sometimes.”


Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you or someone you know has an interesting story to tell, e-mail her at


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