Conrad Armstrong is NONAGON.style’s featured artist of the month. Last year I met with Armstrong in his London studio. We talked about his time at art school, his exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and why it’s important to #SaveHackneyWick.
His latest work is largely born out of the emotions of tension and frustration, with heavy colors and torn materials embedded into the canvas. Much of this is to do with the looming eviction notice on his current home and studio space where he has been for a number of years now. Hackney Wick and Fish Island is an enclave of industrial buildings and warehouses nestled along the River Lea canal system in London’s East End. It’s the home to one of the largest artist communities in Europe, bursting with street art and creativity. Poets, painters, screen printers, musicians, writers and photographers work and create alongside one another. With a heavy heart he told me that their community is under threat of demolition. “We should be keeping arts alive in the city because without it, people aren’t really here,” Armstrong laments.
To this young artist, there is a great realization in the temporary nature of living. Having moved from area to area and pushed out of different neighborhoods because of redevelopment, there is an anger at the displacement of artists within London and the UK. It’s because of this transitory idea that much of his art deals with the construction and rebuilding of important elements. He paints the canvas with metals, plastic and fire to explore this dynamic.
Armstrong’s exhibition is at London’s prestigious Saatchi Gallery. He reflects that his latest body of work has reached a new level of maturity, explaining “for the first time, I feel like I’m getting closer to my voice.” But getting to this point has involved constant evolution and redevelopment in his work. Pushing forward has always been important to Armstrong who felt disillusioned by his art foundation year at Central Saint Martin’s. Seeking discussion and dialogue, he ended up arguing with teachers. This experience was disheartening and he stepped back from a formal art education. Instead, for the last nine years, he has had the guiding influence of renowned British artist Maggi Hambling CBE, who has taken him under her wing as a protégé. Under her guidance he pushes himself out of his comfort zone to find new ways to create art, stating “you should always feel slightly out of your depth, I think.”
Moving forward from painting into 3D formats, Armstrong has also been working with wire and metal to make sculptural art. Now he has opened up a new world of art through painting with fire. With a wry smile, Armstrong told me that blowtorches make good “brushes”. His canvases are now an example of his painting style and highlighting the way he takes forms. He deconstructs them and puts them back together to create something new.
Although the metal and plastic shapes are now solid on the frame, the materials look as though they are clinging to hold themselves together, bound tight with electrical wires and bursting with the energy and form their shaping. So it is fitting that the name of his new show is Tension. As well as the looming eviction notice, the political climate of Britain has informed a huge part of the collection. The largest canvas piece is titled Brexit. All of the pieces reflect the burst of activity and outpouring of sentiment after the controversial referendum.
As part of the START Art Fair taking place at the Saatchi Gallery, Conrad Armstrong was exhibiting his sculptural explorations of tension. Blending the urban landscape with the political turmoil of recent months, the Tension series is a powerful collection of energy. Undoubtedly, it substantiates an outstanding body of work from this talented artist.
You can find out more about Conrad and his other work on his website www.conrad-armstrong.com.
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