I am pleased to share this email interview with the incredible Silver Spring, Maryland based artist Charles Ritchie who for the past 30 years has drawn from his home and neighborhood as the starting point for deeply personal drawings, journals, prints, and paintings. Ritchie has made 143 complete volumes of his art journals since 1977 many […]
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»
LG: You studied at the Slate School in London for your undergraduate degree with R.B. Kitaj and Euan Uglow as a teachers. What was that like? How much of their teaching influences your work today?
BK: I went to UCLA first and that is where I met Kitaj who was a visiting professor teaching drawing. He didn’t teach at the Slade when I was there. He was rather terrifying at first. I was used to life drawing classes where there would be warm up loose gesture drawings and then the “long“ drawings of maybe twenty minutes. In his classes, the first drawing would last at least the entire session, or over several class sessions. He was a very intense teacher, concerned with really looking at what was in front of you. We became close personally and he said that if I wanted to be an artist, then I needed to go to an art academy, and London was the place to go. I spent part of a summer with him in London staying at David Hockney’s place. I applied to the Slade with a portfolio of drawings and was accepted. I would have to say that Kitaj was one of the most influential people in my life and we continued our friendship until his death.
The 4 years at the Slade, coming from LA, was a bit like landing on the moon. The city itself, so impressive, and so old compared with LA (which I love as well), the English accents, English life, English people, the amazing museums, the underground (I had never been on a subway) and no Santa Monica beach. The class I was part of had 12 students who would stay together for the 4 years. Entirely different from UCLA, which had thousands of students. My first day at the Slade was with the painter Patrick George who had us draw straight lines without rulers precise lengths in a large, rather gloomy skylit studio where in Augustus John’s time they used to draw live horses. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. The other first year teachers were more conceptual in their approach, and more baffling. Like having to draw an entire interior on the side of a small chocolate, or making, as Bernard Cohen had us do, a drawing using orange juice. Stuart Brisley, a conceptual artist had us work in even more unconventional ways.
During the subsequent years, we were allowed to take what courses we liked along with our independent studio work and art history at the Courtauld Institute. It was a mixture of classical and more contemporary teaching. I tended towards the more classical approach, taking classes with Sir William Coldstream (who came to the first class of a 3 week session saying that “he would teach us how to paint a Euston Road School painting as if we were making an omelette”, Patrick George, and Euan Euglow who was also a very exacting teacher. My first experience with his class was drawing a bed spring for 3 weeks. I was trained in the The Euston Road School of painting and drawing, which uses measurement at every second of observation. Everything is measured against an initial measurement, say the distance from the precise corner of the eye to the precise corner of an ear. You would use a red x to mark the measurements, which would be done over and over again using the thin handle of the brush, or a pencil sliding a finger up or down, or at times, callipers for measure. The set ups would be for at least 3 weeks and the students’ as well as the models’ positions were marked extensively in tape. This was to try and keep what you were seeing in place as everything came from the one initial measurement. Some of the students set up string or wire grids in front of their field of vision. The technique in measuring was “this is to that and that is to this….”. No focus on making an object, or what it was. It was an observation of the relative distance between all aspects, tone to tone, color to color that built up the image. It was painstaking and almost meditative, but never actually boring. It is a way of drawing and looking that I have incorporated to this day. A way of forcing a slowing down of looking and responding.
While at the Slade, I also took a course with Frank Auerbach who was equally exacting, but in an entirely different way. By the end of the 3 weeks session, my one drawing looked like a torn up rag of paper from constant erasing. At one point in my drawing late on, Auerbach came by and said, “Now this is going well!, let’s have it off” and promptly erased my drawing.
A printmaking technician, painter and friend at the Slade, Roy Osborne introduced me to color theory with Seurat being center stage (SEURAT AND THE SCIENCE OF PAINTING, by William Innes). He has just published another book, Books on Colour 1495-2015. History and Bibliography, Roy Osbourne. I did hundreds of color studies from life by using graph paper and recording what I saw in small spots of color. I also would weave canvases using webbing to have physical squares of colors. Landscapes, interiors, still lives, and models as motifs. I would often work on the same view, but in changing times of day and light.
While at the Slade, I was accepted to Yale’s Summer program at Norfolk. I arrived there from London about 10:00 at night, the studios were already abuzz with students stretching their canvases. I was jet lagged and I think very much in shock. The first group critique was the afternoon of the first day, in contrast to the Slade where there were never group critiques that I can recall. I had a grid watercolor that had maybe 30 squares of color from a landscape I was observing, while other students had several paintings. It was an art boot camp. But what I also found was that there were instructors there who appreciated my way of working (Louis Finkelstein, Arnie Bittleman and Philip Guston who visited for a day). I have friends to this day from that Norfolk summer.
Read the full interview here»
I was fortunate to meet Connie Hayes last summer in Civita Castellana, Italy and was curious to find out more about her terrific new body of work and want to thank her for her time and for sharing thoughts and images of her recent Italian paintings. Connie Hayes lives in Rockland, Maine and shows with […]
I’m delighted and honored that Susan Lichtman agreed to this telephone interview and thank her greatly for being so generous with her time and attention with sharing thoughts about her art and process.
Susan Lichtman is a well-known and greatly respected figurative painter living in Southeastern, Mass. She is an Associate Professor of Painting at Brandeis University. Select recent shows include: List Gallery, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, Smith College, Northampton, MA, and has shown at the Gross McCleaf Gallery, Philadelphia, PA and the Lenore Gray Gallery, Providence, RI as well as many other venues.
The JSS in Civita, (Civita Castellana, Italy) recently announced that Susan Lichtman will be the 2016 JSS in Civita Master Class Guest-of–Honor. Ms. Lichtman will be in residence July 11th to August 1st. Here is a link for more information on her workshop in Italy.
excerpted from the interview:
The perceptual experience of reading the painting considers that we are phototrophic, that we move toward light; ultimately, though, we are most interested in looking at people. If you play a little balancing act between elements of light and bright color and the pool of figuration you slow up the reading of a painting. A red herring is a distraction from the central, important elements of a picture. I often don’t want the figures to reveal themselves too quickly. Of course there are many ways to paint, but I love paintings where the figures are revealed slowly, for example, in Bonnard’s pictures figures emerge gradually, maybe not seen at first, as they are woven to the wallpaper or background. Rembrandt often put the eyes in the shadow and places the light somewhere else, like on a shoulder–that brilliant light redirects the eye, it is placed somewhere where it isn’t actually important and then only after a while do you discover the eyes, the windows of the soul, and all the humanity they contain. You’re playing with the weight of perception.
Read the full interview here»