The artist transforms loss, light into dream landscapes
The Journal continues the monthly “From the Studio” series with Kathaleen Roberts, as she takes a close look at an artist.
Julia Lambright spent 45 years waiting for her mother.
Today, she harnesses that loss through the glow of a golden yolk and a brush, turning it into art with egg tempera.
Lambright’s dream of becoming an artist originated in her native Russia, where she spent most of her childhood in an orphanage. She designed posters for the Soviet New Year and May Day in the orphanage, winning several awards.
“I have met my mother twice in my life,” she said.
She still doesn’t know why her mother abandoned her. A middle-aged piano teacher adopted her at age 10, changing her name from Larissa to Julia. The couple moved from Moscow to the Republic of Georgia near the Black Sea. It would be an unruly game.
Eager to run away, Lambright was pregnant and married at 16. After her divorce, she took a course in cosmetology. She has worked as a makeup artist with photographers, stylists and models.
Lambright met her second husband, an engineer from New Mexico, while on a job in Prague. They corresponded for three years and he proposed. She moved to Albuquerque almost 20 years ago, knowing very little English.
“In Russia we say that he who does not take risks does not drink champagne,” Lambright said. “I was a single mom for 10 years and I was ready for a change.”
Spiritually hungry in a foreign land, her thoughts turned to art. She enrolled in classes at the old TVI, then earned an MFA at the University of New Mexico. She even returned to Moscow to study traditional icon painting, writing her thesis on this ancient art form.
Today, Lambright exhibits his work at the Hózhó Gallery at the Chaco Hotel in Albuquerque.
Lambright’s paintings blend his immersion in historical Russian iconography with the sweeping brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism. She layers colors, textures and imagery into symbolist and surreal dreamscapes, creating a permanent record of impermanence.
“I was like, ‘I can’t speak very well yet, so I’m going to speak visually,'” she said.
“Liana” (2021) emerged from her Russian memories and dreams, entangled in symbolism.
The two women holding the little girl seem pregnant, balancing fruit baskets that turn into ships on their heads.
Lambright has only one photo from his childhood; she stole it from an orphanage bulletin board. His mother wrote, promising to visit him.
“A letter said she would take me from the orphanage near the Caspian Sea with my sister,” Lambright said. “I think she was actually a cousin. It comes from my imagination to have a sister.
“I was drawing things for my mom, hoping she would see them,” she added.
Lambright likens his paintings to puzzles, calling them figurative abstractions.
“I like to think of tracing images together, almost like a collage,” she said.
“Blackhead Sheep” (2020) contains several layers. The sheep swings on wheels, like a child’s toy.
“It’s alive and at the same time static from a dream I had vividly as a kid,” Lambright said. “I was looking at this low horizontal line and there was a man and a woman and there was this sheep as an object of sacrifice.
“Sometimes I create things and I don’t know the answers.”
Talking about his painting “Albina” (2021) made him cry. Albina was an old Ukrainian friend who was bedridden due to a car accident. She died in June. The pandemic prevented Lambright from visiting as often as she wanted. The cascading yellow hues of her body were inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-Paper”, about a woman’s deteriorating mental health.
“We were friends for 25 years,” Lambright said. “We had known each other since my stay in Moscow. Albina imagined herself in a landscape and a sunset.
“She sees possibilities and she can’t escape,” Lambright said. “She was very beautiful, like a model. Yellow symbolizes light and life, but also aging and disease. For me, it was almost a means of healing.
In contrast, the tangled trees and caramel light beams of his diptych “Flourising Night of Green Thoughts” (2021) capture a moonlit jungle, evoking jasmine blossoms.
“It’s not a strategic plan,” Lambright said of his compositions. She sketches her work directly on her cotton canvas on panel.
“Sometimes it’s dictated from above,” she added.
‘Purple Butterfly’ (2021) emerged during the pandemic lockdown, when she could only see the plants growing in her studio.
“So many people got depressed, but I was scared,” Lambright said. “I started thinking about today and now and not worrying too much about the past. Plants are a metaphor for my life.
When she first flew in the Albuquerque International Sunport, she was shocked by the sight of the vast desert.
Since then, she has learned to love Chile.
“What I love most about New Mexico is that I loved when people were friendly to me,” she said. “I was very well received here.