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Martha Armstrong- Whos Woods

Martha Armstrong's bright vistas of Vermont woods as seen from her studio/house often features a small shed, an unobtrusive reminder of wilderness tamed. This simple structure, which appears in all of the paintings in this exhibition has a slightly sloping roof. Most often, the shed is centrally placed although in one or two works, it is cut off by the edge of the canvas, presented as a partial view surrounded by towering trees and a craggy terrain crisscrossed by streaky patterns of light and shadow. Often, the composition is banded by the railing of Armstrong's wooden deck which rises in a slight diagonal, one that traverses the lower section of the painting. From this elevation, the artist regards and records the scene before her, painting quickly en plein air to capture the shifts in light and color which collage her talismanic shed as it rests steadfastly, sturdily in the clearing, a reference perhaps to Yankee hardiness and enterprise. Depicted at different times of the day, in different seasons/ over and over, it is her Rouen Cathedral, her Mont St. Victoire, a motif and scene she never tires of.


Armstrong does not linger over ephemeral, impressionistic effects but constructs her paintings using rigorously determined compositions against which looser gestures play. Her fractured, jigsawed surfaces are close to those of the Cubists by way of the Fauves, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Leiand Bell, fast-forwarded to the present. Her colors are wonderfully diverse and rich: hot bleached yellows, oranges, corals, lavenders and winey reds capped by a patch of azure or pale blue, tamped down by cool, dark industrial greens, marine blues, neutral taupes and browns. She also likes to reverse the perspective, making the background larger in scale so that everything is foregrounded, inter- locked, activating the entire surface, upping the sense of immediacy and urgency. Her attraction to the shed is formal, a painter's attraction to the diagonal of its roof which she renders as a stroke of luminous paint, a counterpoint to the insistent verticals of the trees. Armstrong's vision is direct, purposeful but not laconic, a quietly expansive and joyful interpretation of an American landscape that veers between the representational and the less so. One or two paintings even tilt towards pure abstraction as color spins unbounded. Altogether, they offer a meditation on life and nature evoking the dark rectitude of northern woods into richly radiant tones that sparkle with Old World colors as well as New.

Lilly Wei
March 2003, New York, NY Critic and Independent Curator

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