This week’s cover artist, Sarah Lamb, is one of our living masters of the still-life genre. Her thoughtful compositions evoke a quiet stillness, as objects like bowls, pails and other vessels are depicted alongside fruit, eggs and flowers, bathed in light and casting soft shadows. She’s a realist painter but allows for the quality of the paint to be apparent, following in the traditions of the 17th- and 18th-century Dutch. Born in Virginia and raised in Georgia, Lamb studied art in France and then continued her training in New York, where she lived for eight years before moving to Pennsylvania, where she and her husband, portrait artist David Larnad, have two goats, sheep, chickens and a dog. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lamb, as she is enjoying the 75° weather in Houston with her husband and three-year-old daughter, are spending the winter.
Our conversation began of course with a brief description of how cold it is here and my asking if she’s ever spent time out East.
I’ve made it out there a few times and have managed to avoid summers, which I understand is a good thing. I had friends who rented out Grey Gardens and invited me to come there and paint, so I got to go out there in the winter. I painted scenes from the garden that really went along with the decay [of the estate] that it went through. In late summer I was able to paint really beautiful garden scenes there.
And for this cover image, tell me a little about the painting.
My husband and I have a farmhouse in Chester County, PA, where we restored a garage that we both work in. There’s an apple orchard on the property, and we discovered that four of the trees are pear trees, and so these pears come from that tree and then I experimented with arranging them on different old barn doors. Where we live there are a lot of places where you can find antiques, and I have a beautiful collection of barn doors. This one was done on a light wood door, and the pears were attached with some twine. I always have to think about what’s going to deteriorate first. In the pear painting, I wanted to get the leaves blocked in first before they started to dry up. Sometimes I like them better the next day.
So do you always do still life?
Still lifes are definitely what I’m most known for, although I’m starting to like doing landscapes more and more. I did some in Sag Harbor actually, and now that I’m in Houston, where it’s warmer, I might start doing more of them.
Do you always arrange your compositions exactly as you want them to be in the painting?
Yes, I like to have it set up perfectly and then paint it just as I see it. I paint in natural light whenever I can. North light gives a pretty even light, and sometimes for a more dramatic effect, like with the weathervanes, I can get a greater contrast with artificial light.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m doing a lot of commissions, which is really fun. Most of the people I work with aren’t too specific and they like what I do. I’ve also had fun doing people’s personal possessions. I had a client who liked my peony paintings and had bought a vase from Tiffany’s for his wife as an anniversary gift. He commissioned a painting that would include the vase and the peonies and then gave her both the bouquet and vase along with the painting as the gift.
There are huge markets and farmers markets in Houston, so I’m looking forward to painting new things. The light is different here, and I didn’t bring too many props from home, so I can work with a fresh eye.