Robert Armstrong | After mountains, more mountains | Text by Aidan Dunne
For a certain kind of painter, painting is a process. Of course, making a painting is necessarily a process, usually one that delivers a finished work. But for some, perhaps many painters, the finished work is less a conclusion than a question. Robert Armstrong tends to see all paintings, not just his own, in terms of the questions they pose.
Hence, his work has consistently incorporated a kind of running commentary on painting. Most obviously, perhaps, he has made works that explicitly address works made in the past, notably during the Renaissance, though not at all because they are historically distanced. Rather he is drawn to the way the painters in any era set about making the pictures they make. And he gravitates towards the residual questions lurking in apparent pictorial coherence: the gaps, the oddities, the tacit assumptions.
A 2019 residency in Hong Kong, and a visit to Japan, crystallised some of his thinking in this regard. Traditional Chinese painting offered a radically alternative world of painting. A mountain-centric art (the term for landscape translates as ‘water mountain’), it simply eschews classical perspective, offering an entirely different conceptual scaffolding. And clouds, those curiously amorphous entities,
always intriguingly problematic in Renaissance painting, present no difficulties.
Mountains and water have been recurrent presences in Armstrong’s work from early on, central to his preoccupation with the picture surface, with covering and uncovering, with depth or apparent depth, with the ongoing negotiation between the physically real and the optical illusion. As the show’s title, an Haitian proverb, indicates, the resolution implied by a painting’s completion always offers a new vantage point and opens up new pictorial possibilities. Therein, for Armstrong, lies the true appeal of the pursuit of painting. As well as recent oil paintings, the exhibition features Japanese ink paintings on rice paper mounted on panels.
This exhibition coincides with the launch of a major new, large format publication by Dürer Editions on Robert Armstrong’s work, illustrating some 66 paintings from the last 20 years, with a substantial essay by writer Colm Toibín, and a conversation between the artist and critic Aidan Dunne.