Lillian Lamden knew the power of sculpture. She was intimate with form in space. Materially, Lil was equally comfortable in wood, metal, wire, or wax, and knew, in each, the power of line to define shape and movement to distribute mass. This is why her drawings, though not the main thrust of her oeuvre, are important. One drawing in particular, created as part of a series in the late 1960’s or early 70’s – a rift on feminine form – is one Lamden referred to as her “Big Broad.” Though the title itself might alarm, Lillian Lamden was unafraid of words, visually aligning herself with feminist attacks on patriarchal concepts of beauty, as defined by the commercialization of female form in everything from fashion advertising to the shape of the Barbie doll. The mere title, “Big Broad,” usurps and co-opts mid-20th century male slang, and turns it on its head.
Drawing with a Chinese brush dipped in India Ink and from a live model, Lamden’s gestural movements map the expressively powerful female form across a human-size paper surface. As a sculptor, Lamden’s early works reveal evidence of formalist abstract concerns, such as the push and pull of sculptural mass and implied line in space; something the visually literate public had come to expect of artists in the heady post-war gallery culture. The “Big Broad” series, however, surprised those who followed Lamden since her debut in the 1950’s. Suddenly, meaning and content took unmistakable precedence over a mere formalist approach. This art says something.
By paring down the movement of the figure to direct line, Lamden reveals the hand of the artist in its most elemental action: the description of seeing. Lamden claimed these works as intimately aligned with the sculptor’s approach to form. “Visually (all) my work is a metaphor for line in space…Emotionally it expresses feelings: anger, aggression, playfulness, fantasy, rigidity, whimsy and power.” To see this drawing today, after nearly 50 years, is to know it has lost none of its emotive linear force. The power and insight of the artist is still fresh and ready to amaze.