Inside her yellow bungalow home in Belhaven, artist Vidal Blankenstein tries to explain the effect her painting "Her House" creates. The painting, which is representative of much of Blankenstein's work, is rendered in a mix of pale and dark acrylics on board.
"I guess this is our house," she concedes, "and here is life around you. Little houses and vines. Here's a face. There's a man over there, apparently."
By "our house," Blankenstein refers to the fact that she shares her home with husband David
Lambert, who is also a noted Jackson artist. The two moved in after marrying nine years ago, and their lives as artists is visibly concentrated in the interior. The paintings of both line the walls of the living room, kitchen and stairwell. The upstairs contains a studio that sometimes finds the two working side by side; Lambert usually resides in the corner, while Blankenstein perches atop a high chair situated near the middle of the studio table.
Yet in spite of sharing the same studio space, Blankenstein's and Lambert's art is unique from one another's. "They're both narratively based, (but) our painting techniques are very different," Blankenstein says.
Lambert, the more verbose of the two, clarifies by characterizing his more realistic style. He refers to a painting in the studio whose large size makes it the focal point of the room. The scene depicts a city street with mysterious characters peaking out from balconies; moonlight falls on a river visible behind the cityscape. The bold colors—purples, oranges and greens outlined thickly in black—reflect the Marvel comics Lambert says he read as a kid. The painting technique he uses is also a byproduct of earlier years. As a graduate student at Ole Miss, Lambert decided to experiment with painting on a piece of cabinetry he found in the old chemistry lab he used as a studio.
"I was really intrigued by how the texture brought something else to the painting that I couldn't necessarily control. But I always enjoyed the surprise of it," he says.
Doubling as the president of Bryant Galleries in Jackson and New Orleans, Lambert is a constant artist. He carries small black sketchbooks during the week in order to map out scenes that arise in his imagination, and uses the weekend to "work out the sketch on a larger scale." His proficiency leads him to see art in everything, including pieces of the wood on the ground and objects at the flea market, which he then stores in the attic of his yellow home. Utilizing these objects has led to the production of wood sculptures that show off Lambert's versatility as an artist and display his keen eye for the way different materials can play off one another to create an oddly symbolic piece.
Blankenstein admits that her husband is far more prolific. Whereas he has exhibited in New Orleans for the past 15 years, Blakenstein says she has been more of a "closet painter." Her first works were more formal and contained a more serious palette, but the motion and dream-like quality of her current works were present from the beginning. Blakenstein gradually incorporated more spontaneity into her paintings by etching tiny objects into scenes that are already an amalgamation of figures like "trees, faces, eyes, hands." Using pastel acrylics in combination with darker hues has resulted in paintings that see more whimsical, but also come across as eerie.
"Pictorially it's a landscape, but thematically it's more about the internal landscape of the mind," she says. "I don't try to be overdramatic about it, but that's the way it turns out."
Blankenstein's approach to painting parallels her style. Although her works are so intricately detailed that it seems it would be difficult to produce without planning, Blankenstein says she doesn't come to the easel with any preconceived notions.
"Things just sort of emerge," she explains.
Although neither Blankenstein nor Lambert says they have significantly influenced the other's style, both realize the impact they have made in each other's lives as artists. Lambert lauds Blankenstein for inspiring him to create. In turn, Blankenstein credits Lambert with exposing her to what goes on in a gallery show, which she says has made it easier to exhibit.
"I don't know that I would have been able to do as much without him," she says, before playfully interjecting, "at least not as cheaply."
I love love love both of their work, so I'm so happy to see them get so play. They're both such unique artists. They showed at the Cedars together, with Bebe Wolfe too, a couple of months ago, and I was just stunned.
Great story, too, Sophia! Your writing really did them justice.
Oh, look, it's my last Number 1. We miss you, Little Miss Ironfist.
Lance, Casey taught Brian everything he knows on the meanness frong. ;-)
Miss you, sweet thang.