The solo exhibition provides a rare opportunity to delve into the artistic language of Zachary Armstrong, demonstrating the wide range of media in his practice, which spans from reproductions of children’s room wallpaper and childhood drawings to large-scale abstract encaustic paintings sectioned into grids. Featuring collage, pottery, ceramic masks, and paintings of faces and fish, the exhibition explores the recurring and ever-evolving lives and transformations of materials and motives in the artist’s practice.
For Armstrong, abstraction and materiality becomes a structure for exploring the personal in his work. For instance his work in pottery is an ode to his father, who himself was a potter. At the same time, the materials, which Armstrong takes up always connect to a broader art historical tradition as well. His main focus, encaustic painting, is a layering, fast drying and century-old technique, which was revived and popularized by prominent American artists of the second half of the 20th century, such as Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Lynda Benglis.
Through this diverse range of techniques, sensibility, image and process are experienced as one in Armstrong’s works. The surfaces of his canvases are thick and clotted, acquiring the spontaneity and simple aesthetic of a child or even the late Jean Dubuffet. For Armstrong, one work is always a study for the next, be it the reproduction of a fish painting, the Elder-Beerman logo, or pop cultural imagery, such as dinosaurs and sheep, commonly found in commerce’s youth products.
Armstrong is known for spending very long sessions in his studio, building all of his canvases and stretchers himself, and his hands-on approach to imagery can be considered rather unique in contemporary artistic practice. The works on show express the artist’s method of energetically repeating the same figures into an entire vocabulary of images, making up a naïve cartoonish universe in their universal and graphical appearance.
This devoted and process oriented approach is articulated through the intimate space, which Armstrong has built at SABSAY, where a wide selection of his work is installed on a shelf. Like a pedestal, the shelf attaches significance to each object placed on it, each carefully selected and arranged side by side. Reflecting the ongoing narrative of Armstrong’s practice, which is driven by material curiosity with people and moments from his own life at its core, the shelf marks the subtle gesture of rising things and memories above the mundane to be treasured.