Vito Schnabel Gallery is pleased to present Zachary Armstrong: New Work, the gallery’s first exhibition with the Ohio-based artist. Debuting a new body of work that reflects the different aspects of the artist’s inventive multimedia practice, the presentation will feature new paintings, sculptural reliefs, and an installation of ceramic lamps and carved wooden sewing machines– a group of objects that introduce the visitor to both Armstrong’s penchant for technical innovation and uninhibited evocation of imagination and memory as a means of connecting.
Zachary Armstrong: New Work will be on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery’s 43 Clarkson Street location from September 13 through October 28, 2023.
Employing encaustic as his signature painting medium, Zachary Armstrong’s practice probes at different concepts of abstraction through the use of representational imagery. His work is driven by a material curiosity that is bound up in his desire to exercise every possibility of the rich, tactile qualities achieved when hot wax and pigments are worked together. Armstrong’s ritualistic repetition of a visual lexicon– recurrent symbols and motifs uniquely his own– are rooted in recollections of childhood and family, of people and places, of rural Midwest Americana. These are intermixed with his studies of natural history and a deep archive of art historical references.
Armstrong began painting with encaustic in his mid-twenties and uses a flat-top restaurant stove to heat up mixed cans of colored wax. Binding together beeswax and damar resin, he adds oil paint to create his palette, likening his medium’s density and tactility to clay. Unlike clay, however, the pigments of encaustic dry instantaneously as the medium is brushed onto the surface of the canvas. Armstrong builds layers of this seemingly alchemical material, then carves and etches into its waxy depths to achieve textural nuance and depth.
On view at Vito Schnabel Gallery are two collage-style paintings that employ motifs Armstrong has repeatedly reworked over the years. In one canvas, the imagery of sewing machines, crabs, and a chimney become the building blocks of his composition. Executed with precision, these pictorial forms yield a series of intricate lines, patterns, and details. Armstrong’s process thus breaks down the iconographic qualities of his images until their meaning, specificity, or likeness to reality become abstracted or even erased. In the second canvas on view, Armstrong incorporates imagery of paintings he has made before– a black and white abstraction, a figurative image of a book and hands, a child’s drawing, a series of fish, and a single sewing machine– layered within an all-over floral motif evoking sections of wallpaper covered in sprawling pink, yellow, and purple blooms. Without using expressionistic strokes, gestures, or movements, Armstrong strives to make non-objective paintings that are made up of and energized by the simple, mundane objects that surround him.
Also on view are two large-scale wall-mounted sculptures. One is a commanding portrait of a turkey, and the other a crab. The subjects of these works nod to Armstrong’s longstanding interest in natural history and exploration of animal motifs. In the past, he has painted specimen charts of crabs and fish, and rendered studies of different birds. Drawn to the unique, complex structures of their anatomical make-up, Armstrong scrutinizes the pigmented and exquisite patterns and designs of feathers, scales, and exoskeleton shells. Now, in these sculptures, Armstrong has carved and crafted the structures of their bodies in wood before executing the details of their likeness in paint with astonishing effect. In the intricacy of ridges and veins in the turkey’s feathers, for example, Armstrong has pushed his materials to new lengths in order to capture the bird’s unconstrained spirit and evoke the fleshly growth and distinct appendages of its snood, caruncle, and wattle.
The exhibition’s installation of sewing machines and plaster lamps pays homage to Armstrong’s parents. His father, an art teacher and ceramicist, taught sculpture and ceramics for over fifty years. Throughout his childhood, Armstrong witnessed the rituals of his father’s home-based studio practice. His admiration for his father’s skilled manipulation of clay– the elder Armstrong’s approach to form in creating hand-thrown pots– serves as an inspiration for his own ceramic-like vessels. Over the last ten years, Armstrong has appropriated concepts from pottery and ceramics and translated them into the framework of painting and sculpture. Built up from wooden armatures that he covers in plaster, Armstrong’s vessels evoke the silhouetted curves of his father’s pots. Over time, he has transformed these vessels into functional lamps: a series of plaster-based and fiber glass-coated structures, each unique in their own character, color, and make-up. Similarly, a new series of carved wood sewing machines has taken shape in recent years. The emblem of the sewing machine is a nod to Armstrong’s mother, an accomplished seamstress.
About the Artist
Zachary Armstrong (b. 1984) lives and works in Dayton, Ohio.
Recent solo exhibitions include GNYP Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium (2023); Tilton Gallery, New York, NY (2022, 2018, 2016); Faurschou Foundation, New York, NY/Beijing, China (2022, 2021); The Contemporary, Dayton, OH (2021); Carl Kostyál, London, UK (2019); GNYP Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2019, 2017); Sabsay, Copenhagen, Denmark (2018); Melser/Feuer, New York, NY (2016); Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2015), and Dayton Visual Arts Center, Dayton, OH (2014).
Armstrong was included in Inherent Structure, a survey exhibition of contemporary abstract painting at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH in 2018. That year, he also participated in the residency program at Lefebvre & Fils in Versailles, France.
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