Friday, October 10, 2008

Bill Armstrong: The Artist's Artist--My Interview with one of New York's Greats

This innovative artist has had numerous solo exhibitions all over the world, his work is in the collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Brooklyn Museum, Centro Internazionale, De Cordova Museum, Fogg Art Museum, Lehigh University Art Galleries, Musee De l'Elysee (Switzerland) and in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to name a few. His work continues to be published yearly in books and magazines and he is the recipient of art awards that include an Acquisition Award, Fine Art Honorable Mention, Purchase Prize and Best in Show. His work recently displayed at the Aperture Art Gallery in Chelsea, New York where his "Mandela" piece was published on the cover of a collective abstract art book.It was an honor to meet with him to discuss some of his work.

Nice to meet you Bill, I love your work! This is so exciting. I have some questions about some of your series.

Okay, ask away.

What do the Mandela images signify?

They are based on Buddhist or Hindu paintings.

And the Apparition series, what inspired you?

They were taken from Roman sculptures.

Was it your intention for people to be able to recognize them?

No, they're kind of ghosts of the Romans, appearing now to remind us what happened to them.

What camera technique do you use?

Film, medium format camera, shot up very close with the focusing ring set at infinity to achieve blur...

(fascinated) Why the blur?

It de-materializes things and makes them ephemeral. Also, my work is made from collages, and extreme defocusing makes the seams of the collages disappear so the image appears to be from the real world—that’s the magic that makes it all work.

Tell me more about the Renaissance series.

They are made from Renaissance drawings. They are meant to represent different aspects of the human condition—some are free, floating or flying and others are bound or struggling. The colors tend to be more pastels than my prior work.

And the figures?

Those were some of the first ones; they are cut out pictures from fashion magazines. They represent ghost figures, perhaps from a parallel universe...they are about identity, everyman but no man, featureless but individual.

And these beautiful Mandalas?

They are collages made from colored paper. Like Buddhist paintings, they are meditative pieces, referencing spirituality.

Do you have a favorite?

No, I like them all.

Recent recognition?

My work appeared in the New Yorker last year. I currently have an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

What's the business aspect in the Art world like?

I became an artist because I didn't want to be in business, but it turns out that being an artist you also have to be a businessman. You have to do everything yourself—production, marketing, accounting etc. I teach part time because it’s pretty difficult to live from print sales—especially now.

And how long have you worked as an artist?

Over thirty years. I started these blurred images ten years ago, but before that I worked with graffiti and torn posters.

Would you be considered one of the more well-known artists out there?

No. I’m fairly well-known in the Photography world, but not necessarily in the Art world...not yet, anyway.

I always tend to ask the celebrity question, has any famous person ever approached you?

Martha Stewart commissioned me to do a blurred picture of an abstraction of a wine rack.

What artist would you consider to be an inspiration, what is one of the greats (to you)?

Robert Rauschenburg was a big work isn't like his but it's about collage, so it’s similar in a way. I would consider him to be about the most important artist of the second part of the century.

Talk a little about your Kama Sutra collection from your archive. Looking at it, unless you see the title, you would have no idea it is what it is.

That's true. Even if you know what it is, you don't really see it. There's a difference between what the mind thinks and what it actually sees. So it’s more conceptual than the other work, in a way. In the blue one (from same collection), the person depicted is a courtesan preparing to meet someone, and there's something very lonely about it. I’d like to do more of those.

Each photo brings the viewer to so many different worlds, it's really quite unique.

Thank you.

I'm going to keep an eye out for your work during my future visits to museums and educate my students about your work; many of them are extremely interested in art.

Capture the Beauty and Essence: check out this artist's current exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and learn more by going to his webpage by clicking on image above (top left corner). All displayed art is courtesy of Bill Armstrong. Not intended for Duplication, copy, or use for public unless permission is granted by artist.

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