|OBJET D’ART: Few in the Dallas art scene know that Lamy paints in his Dragon Street studio.
photography by Allison V. Smith
It looks like an art gallery on a Montmartre side street. Paintings climb the complete elevation of the walls. Some even rest on the floor, leaning, but no less precious. Amid the collection, which comprises American and European works from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, one dazzling and happy canvas captures my eye.
“Whose is this?” I ask a man, presumably the proprietor.
“Oh, this is mine,” he says, quietly, sounding French.
I see the signature in the bottom corner, a flourish in Wedgwood blue. He watches as I scan the full perimeter of the space, looking for another. There are Postimpressionists, abstracts, paintings from the School of Paris. But nothing as inviting, as commanding, really, as the owner’s canvas that hangs in front of me. Then, there is a door.
“What is through it?” I ask.
“I will show you,” he says, intently, as if unwrapping a jewel from a secret pouch.
I wait as he tends to a customer. Perhaps there is an office behind the door, or extra paintings, given how the walls are covered to capacity.
“Come,” he says, turning the knob.
Like Narnia’s wardrobe, the threshold at the back of this Dragon Street gallery opens onto a world of beauty and craft, of unrestrained creativity. It opens onto a life.
Jacques Lamy paints. He paints all the time, sometimes beginning when it is still dark, in this studio behind the door. His work is everywhere, blasts of color and form, large, full of surprise. Often he incorporates textiles or paper, worn with age and imbued with history. Canvases ramble up to the 16-foot ceilings and stand in rows, like giant flip books. In the center of the space, a sky-lit wall is outfitted with screws upon which three pieces perch together.
“I like to jump from one to the other,” Lamy says. “I believe in speed. If you know where to go, you should not have hesitation.”
Lamy, 61, has shown his work in Spain, Monaco, Senegal, and his native Paris, as well as other French cities. He attended the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. At 24, he was awarded the Prix de Rome de Peinture from L’Académie des Beaux-Arts, an honor initiated by the Medici family in the 1600s and given to one painter each year, ever since. But here in Dallas, where he and his wife have lived for 22 years, people, even those immersed in the arts, are unaware of Lamy’s gift.
“No, I don’t know him,” says Nancy Whitenack, owner of Conduit Gallery and a player in the local art community for 25 years.
“I know that he has been part of the gallery business for a long time, but I do not know about his art,” says Maloree Banks, of Banks Fine Art, just a few blocks down.
Holly Morgan of the Dallas Museum of Art says, “The painting curators have heard of him and his gallery, but don’t know much about him.”
For Lamy, who, at 3, used to draw on the back of waste paper his father would bring home from his job at the French Treasury, the frustration of this anonymity is palpable. “They just know me for the one reason,” he says, tossing up his arms. “I am a legend elsewhere. Here, I am still in the closet.”
How this Frenchman happened to come to Dallas defines the tug between calling and commerce with which so many artists struggle. After his birth in Paris in 1946, Lamy moved to the central region of Auvergne, known for its pride and fighting spirit. “It is the only place where Julius Caesar was beaten,” he says, “a country within a country, like Texas.” He looked at books and painted, interpreting different styles. At 14, he discovered a gallery in his hometown, Clermont-Ferrand.
“I was astonished by what I saw, major names of the early ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. As a child, I sold some of my pieces to the curator, who was a well-known collector. And this summer, I found out he had kept one, an abstract landscape, as part of his personal collection, which is now hanging in a museum in Auvergne.”
Untrained until he left for Paris at 21, Lamy sensed early on that his life would be tailored to his talent. “I did not choose it,” he says. “It was given to me to do, and that is it. It is not something that I cannot do.”
He spent two years in Madrid after winning the Prix de Rome, returned to France for his military obligation, and was stationed at a base for fighter pilots. When officers learned of his background, Lamy was enlisted for special duty, drawing the diagrams for the training manuals. “On the weekends, there I was, in uniform, painting,” he says. A teaching position later took him to Africa for five years, where his own brush drank in the dance and music of the place. “I do not believe in teaching, at least for art. Every child is born an artist. The difficulty is staying one.”
When Lamy and his wife, Odile, who was pregnant with their son, finally headed back to Paris, making a reliable income was a pressing concern. He was struck, after eight years away, by the emergence of Italian design in a very traditional France and soon found himself designing modern lamps in bronze, crystal, and painted wood. Within five years, La Lampe Francaise was in all the magazines, Lamy laughs, and he was awarded the Silver Medal for Industrial Creation, an award given by the country’s Ministry of Industry. He had no time to paint, though, and was earning only enough to pay his bills.
“I had only success, but no money.”
When buyers from Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s began ordering, Lamy showed his lamps at a trade show at the Coliseum in New York City. “ ‘You should go to Dallas,’ everybody told me. ‘It is the most booming city.’ ”
Ultimately, he, Odile, and their son did, subleasing space in the World Trade Center from a lighting manufacturer. The faux finishing he did on his lamps led to painting frescoes, which led to attention from interior designers, which led to hours and hours craning his neck upon ladders in hotels and restaurants and golf clubs all over the world. Lamy’s murals adorn the walls of Neiman Marcus, the Sfuzzi restaurants, and the St. Andrews clubhouse in Scotland. The frescoes also piqued the interest of print producers, who contracted with Lamy to sell classical still lifes created in the same genre.
“Still,” says Odile, “there was not time for his own art.”
But, the print sales exceeded—and still exceed—all projections. “If you want more sales than me, you have to buy a Picasso or a Matisse,” Lamy says. “But they allowed me to buy this building.”
And, they allowed him to devote one-third of it to, finally, his own art—even if nobody really knows about it. So, for the past 15 years, Lamy, alone, has crossed into the place behind the door, knowing fully that he is lucky to do so, and that he is obliged to do so. “When I work, I enter into my own world. There is magic and mystery to it. I do not always understand where it is coming from, but I know it is coming,” he says.
If buyers go first to New York or Paris, and not “a guy who paints in the back of the shop in Texas,” Lamy understands that, too. “It is not a torment for me, but a resignation.”
“It is somewhat of a tragedy for the rest of us,” says his friend Chip Adams, who has taken to recording their salon-like conversations. “His philosophy does not allow for a plan. But he knows that if he produces the work, time will honor and do what it is supposed to do.”
Meantime, Lamy embraces the process with abandon, giving in to the mysticism of it. “I am not pretentious, I do not think,” he says. “I know, though, that what is in front of me will be recognized. Now, I paint. How would I describe it? I don’t describe it. I leave that to the people.”
Pamela Gwyn Kripke is a contributing editor to D Magazine. Write to [email protected].
Over the years, artist Jacques Lamy and his friend Chip Adams have discussed art, philosophy, and more in salon-like conversations. Chip has recorded many of those conversations. Segments of them are sampled here. Samples of Lamy’s work can be found on his site www.jacqueslamy.com/jacques-studio.html.
The mysteries of inspiration and the places of his dreams.
The meaning of art, going all the way back to the cavemen’s drawings on walls.
Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and the intellectual side of art.
Does an artist’s art evolve? Picasso says no. Lamy sort of agrees.
Lamy and Adams discuss the Impressionists — small masters and great.
“A great manifestation of art cannot be explained,” Lamy says. He goes on to explain.
The difference between Raphael and Michelangelo.
The importance (or lack) of research in modern painting.
Does decorative art diminish the viewers’ appreciation of other works?