Excerpt from the interview with Martha Armstrong:
Martha Armstrong was in San Diego a few weeks ago and agreed to an interview with me. We met at a mutual friend’s home where we sat out on a hillside deck overlooking a huge valley with the distant city and ocean beyond. We talked at length about her history, painting process and thoughts on art, occasionally interrupted by roaming peacocks looking for handouts.
I’m keenly interested in Martha Armstrong’s paintings especially as a means to further explore the range of possibilities for painters to use observed nature as either as a point of departure or as a reason in and of itself. Martha Armstrong’s painting combines close observation with invention in a balanced measure, which she uses to create solid structures and harmonies that dance parallel alongside nature. Armstrong takes the most interesting aspects of what past artists have explored in this realm of abstracted observation–Bonnard, Braque, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keefe, Lois Dodd among others–and makes it a uniquely personal and inventive manner of responding pictorially to nature.
The New York Times’ Roberta Smith reviewed Martha Armstrong’s Bowery show, Martha Armstrong’s Nature Scenes at Bowery Gallery, in Sept. 24, 2015 saying:
“… Ms. Armstrong is the suave disciplinarian of a muscular style. She stacks blocky shapes of color that describe one landscape — a hill with some woods and a shack — visible from the window of her Vermont studio that may be her Mont Sainte-Victoire. But her shapes also maintain a nearly sculptural independence, hovering slightly above the image, just beyond legibility. At once improvisational and carefully carpentered, these paintings explode toward the eye, like nature on first sight, at it’s most welcoming and irrepressible.”
Martha Armstrong is conducting an early June residency workshop in Italy at the International Center for the Arts at MonteCastello di Vibio. See this link for more information.
Below the end of interview I’ve included quotes of paint-wisdom from her previous writings, these gems read like art-koans. I’d like to thank Martha Armstrong for being so generous with her time and attention with making this such a thoughtful interview.
Martha Armstrong is represented by the Elder Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina; Oxbow Gallery, Northampton, Massachusetts, Gross McCleaf Gallery Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Bowery Gallery, New York City.
From Armstrong’s website:
Martha Armstrong has had many one -person and group shows in the United States and Italy. She has received grants from Smith College, a residency at Hollins University, and at the Camargo Foundation in France, and was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.
She has taught at the Kansas City Art Institute, Indiana University, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Dartmouth, and Havorford Colleges, and now is a graduate critic at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In 2003 Alexi Worth wrote in The New Yorker, “Armstrong’s high, sharp energy is Yankee Fauvism at it’s best.” Lance Esplund, in Art in America, wrote in 2004, “I enjoy the all-out belting of the melody which is full of honesty and heart.” In 2009 Victoria Donohue wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “In these works it’s still possible to believe that aesthetic presence might have some impact on the hard reality of everyday existence”, and in 2011 she wrote: “Her landscapes have a simplify and power; Their intensity of focus on feeling and seasonal changes (are) ambitious exercises in reconciling geometry and gesture…”
Armstrong studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy, Smith College, and Rhode Island School of Design. In addition to Bowery Gallery she shows at Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, Elder Gallery in Charlotte NC, and Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, MA.
Larry Groff: How did you become a painter? Was there a lesson you learned that was most important in shaping you to be the painter you are today?
Martha Armstrong: This is an easy question because I remember thinking of myself as a painter in grade school. I remember a teacher in kindergarten who could never get me to put the paintbrush down. I loved painting then but of course “art” was pasting cotton balls on paper plates.
The great teacher in my life was Anneliese von Oettingen who came from Germany after World War II to teach ballet. She taught me what art is. She had been the ballet mistress of the Kurtfurstendamm Children’s Theater in Berlin. She was demanding, loved dance—it was the most exciting thing to do. She taught what form was and what rhythm was. I had such a feeling from her about what art was and the discipline needed to get there. I always considered her the best teacher I ever had, an amazing person.
LG: You later went to art school, this was early on?
MA: I went to The Cincinnati Art Academy in seventh and eighth grade with friends. We found it kind of a lark, it was part of the Museum. We could always go over there to look at paintings. There were serious classes in perspective, and eventually life drawing and still life painting. We had a wonderful time. I look back on that as some of the best training I had. These were art students teaching classes to kids, and they were good. Later, one summer while in college, I studied landscape painting with Julian Stanczyk who had been a Polish refugee via Africa. He made a comment that after his experiences in Poland in World War II, he could never paint anything figurative. The physical world was just out of the question for him. He had gone to Yale and was an Opt artist. He shows at Danese Gallery in New York. He was a great teacher, a humanist in a way. He got me to read John Marin’s letters, directed me to look at certain artists.
Read the full interview here»