"Last of the Sunflowers' 30 x 48 Oil on canvas - ©2015 Martha Armstrong
IN AND OF THE LAND, PART 2
Curated by Ann Finholt
Paintings by Martha Armstrong
January 7 through February 6, 2016
FIVE POINTS GALLERY
33 Main Street
West, East, and Top Galleries
Open Thursday--Sunday 1-5pm
Opening Reception Friday, January 8, 6-8:30
Curator conversation Friday January 22, 6pm
Review: Martha Armstrong’s Nature Scenes at Bowery Gallery
By Roberta Smith
September. 24, 2015
Painting from nature is nearly as old as the hills. For years, Alex Katz was the most prominent keeper of its flame, but other devotees have lately come into clearer view — Mr. Katz’s contemporary, the great Lois Dodd, for one. In addition, younger painters like Maureen Gallace and the even younger Daniel Heidkamp and Aliza Nisenbaum have wholeheartedly or partly followed suit. Painting from various forms of life has become a thing — as they say — in the hipper reaches of the contemporary art world.
So what better time to survey the underappreciated achievement of Martha Armstrong, a plein-air painter in her mid-70s who trained at Smith College and the Rhode Island School of Design and has worked for years in relative obscurity. Since 1988, she has had eight solo shows, including this one, at the noticeably unhip Bowery Gallery, an artists’ co-op founded in 1969.
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 its most welcoming and irrepressible.
They wear their devotions on their sleeves — Cézanne, Fauvism, Cubism, Arthur Dove — but their internal bigness, blockiness and electric spontaneity are quite their own, as are their exuberant parsings of orange, red, green and brown tones.
Ms. Armstrong, who regularly visits Arizona, may have found an actual stand-in for Mont Sainte-Victoire in Safford Peak of the Tucson Mountains, justly nicknamed Sombrero Peak. Here, the tilted stackings of her hillside give way to a more horizontal jumble that in at least one treatment is further disrupted by big zigzags of gray in the foreground — like clouds too full of themselves. In more ways than one, this is an inspiring show.
Review at the NYT website here
Margaret A Skove, Director, writing about Armstrong’s work in the catalog
for the Blanden Art Museum’s March-September 2014 exhibition:
[Armstrong’s] language is abstracted realism where forms, composition, color and light have an often undefined relationship to optical reality, although in every work you know she is experiencing the same landscape view at the same time as she is creating the drawing or painting. Armstrong’s style is abstraction with recognizable realism equivalency, so the term “abstracted realism” indicates that this is not a likeness, it is a form, color and light reinterpretation of an experienced landscape.
Abstraction takes in the entire picture plane, every inch of the area having the same sense of immediacy, composed to give the viewer opportunity to become involved through movement, the rhythm of a free-flowing brushstroke of color, contra-punctual forces connecting through form elements, such as diagonals, and the density of affinities between colors. . . .
Martha Armstrong Press Release, 2012
At Bowery Gallery in Chelsea Martha Armstrong is showing landscapes painted in Vermont over the last year, a dialogue with panting as much as with place over the seasons.
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.
Victoria Donahoe reviews Gross McCleaf show, Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2011
"...These have a simplicity and power, their intensity of focus on feeling and seasonal changes being major elements in the tale she tells of her Vermont studio's natural surroundings that include ambitious exercises in reconciling geometry and gesture..."
Carand Burnet reviews Oxbow show, ART NEW ENGLAND July 2011
"For the past fifteen years, painter Martha Armstrong has interpreted the view from her Vermont cottage, portraying the area with a mixture of recollection and spontaneity. In 'Vermont Landscapes', the viewer follows the seasons of this mountainside, watching the summer trees and autumn red forms dart across the canvas. Along the way, Armstrong introduces sawing fence poles as anchor points to distinguish the vicinity, and as she aids the viewer in discerning the scale of the forest. Tactile brushstrokes, inlaid side by side, define shapes that meander between abstraction and representation. read more
Broad Street Review
'Martha Armstrong at Gross McCleaf'
by Andrew Mangravite
March 7, 2009. Martha Armstrong's new exhibition at Gross McCleaf shows where she has been and where she is going- namely, from Expressionism to abstraction and back again. Her journey offers a nice emotional contrast to the drier, more intellectual vision of Cézanne. read more
Martha Armstrong retrospective at Gross McCleaf
'Canvases project personality'
by Victoria Donohue for the Inquirer
March 6, 2009. Anything but pompous, Martha Armstrong's art offers direct meaning without sacrificing visual sophistication. Armstrong is an image-maker best known for her landscape and cityscape paintings and an occasional still life. Such work is the major theme dominating the 46 year retrospective of her paintings and drawings, "Up to Now", at Gross McCleaf. read more