JOAN FERNEYHOUGH GALLERY
Press & Reviews
Evocation and the Architecture of Light: The
Work and Play of Visual Artist Cameron Armstrong
What are these slap-dash/calculated “evocation devices”
I see before me? These abstract
blobs of black or white that wander across the page or board and get me all
excited. This artist, this Cam
Armstrong makes conceptual, “juxtaposed,” imagiste paintings and drawings in
his home town of North Bay, Ontario Canada: at the edge of the wilderness, edge
of the ice, edge of the southern herd. After
making noises together last night, we sat down to talk about
’s life, his art practice and the
As a child growing up in Graniteville,
remembers being inspired by comics long before he began to experiment with
visual art media. As a student in
the eighties, he developed his interests in music (
is a Conservatory trained pianist and keyboard player) and various forms of
visual art, David Carlin, art teacher at
to the joys of mixed media and to an appreciation for the synthesis of art and
politics. During this period,
Armstrong began to perform his music at local clubs and taverns.
The Lion’s Heart Tavern holds a special place in the hearts of the
North Bay Gen-X crowd. The eighties
were the years when the
scene was vibrant, inspiring and cohesive and the Lion’s Heart was at the eye
of the storm. Local music was
thriving as well. Armstrong credits
the Parkview Tavern as a formative cultural venue that fed his appetites for
R&B, traditional blues acts, and indie acts from across the country.
to attend the Ontario College of Art and to live the life of the artist.
He learned from his instructors (John Scott, Robert Hedrick, and Victor
Tinkle as well as Graham Coughtry and Jim Tiley) and from his fellow students
(Ian-Patrick McAllister, Sheri Boyle, and Stephanie Cormier among many others).
John Scott, infamous for his Trans-Am Apocalypse No. 2, was a “great
teacher” who had “a soft way of getting to devastating points” about
’s work. Scott’s critiques and
his own art projects were always conceptually driven, i.e. the idea for the
piece was central, and often dictated the medium while being heedless of the
All cranked up with these new ideas and techniques,
collaborated with fellow OCA students and other young
artists to form loose artists’ collectives.
Groups like The Impure Collective and Dead Industry were formed to
“find solutions” for a lack of venues for contemporary artworks in
during the early to mid-nineties.
was a member of both these collectives and took part in dozens of warehouse
shows, site-specific projects, performances and “multiples” initiatives.
It’s also important to note that
cites his more “traditionalist” teachers as being equally formative to his
art and practice. Jim Tiley brings
to his students a strong attention to form in painting.
Graham Coughtry was able to make the history of Canadian contemporary art
real for his students and to illustrate how abstraction in various parts of the
country was drawing from similar traditions and reflecting similar concerns.
recalls that, “Robert Hendrick taught you to strip your perceptions bare.
He asked us to see the essence of things and to unlearn the rules of
representation or artifice.
. After an initial “decompression
period,” he landed squarely on his fee, finding a great studio in the downtown
core and securing a place in the Joan Ferneyhough Gallery stable of artists.
These fortuitous events coincided with a bit of an upturn in the
art marketplace (unless that’s a contradiction in terms?). Armstrong is
seeing more younger gallery owners in the city now and is encouraged by the rise
of galleries like Katherine Mulherine Gallery, and the Redhead Collective.
For the past few years, Armstrong has been working on mixed
media drawings and large and small-scale oil paintings on board.
As we moved into a discussion of his work and process,
referred often to influences from film, literature, philosophy, art theory and
from his teachers. He is “slightly
obsessed” with oil paint and says that the medium “was the best teacher I
ever had in terms of how to develop patience.”
When I asked about the “almost photographic” qualities of his
paintings (the quasi-realist renderings of fuzzy bunnies, gleaming bowls and
malevolent greyhounds) Armstrong first referenced the British painter Francis
Bacon and his notions of “chance” as they apply to painting.
is interested in illusory images that can be broken down and that seem to have
a special reflective quality or sheen. “It’s
not that these objects are really reflecting light in this way, but that, upon
examination they seem to be exuding an internal light.”
A second surface layer in many of these paintings contains
elements of graffiti, Japanese and Persian calligraphy, and dimensional
typography as well as a conjoining of “symbols” and drips or dribbles of
pure paint. These “abstract
blobs” that hang at the edges of the paintings and drawings or crowd up
against background images conjure a type of subconscious language in the viewer.
Armstrong calls these passages in the paintings “evocation devices.”
Our discussion went on for much longer than can be
encapsulated in this short article, but I wanted to include and end with a very
interesting theoretical connection and influence that seems ventral to
Armstrong’s practice. As we talked
about the intricate (and subtle) compositions of the work, touching on the ideas
of American abstract artists Ad Reinhart and Agnes Martin, Cam outlined a
connection between his images and the ideas of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.
In particular, he mentioned the French theorists’ concept of
“Interior Cartography” that they develop in a text called: Nomadology.
Composition in painting sometimes means: how the
image-maker leads the viewer through the picture planes.
Armstrong’s paintings, as in the writings of Deleuze and Guattari are
“set up as engines” for thought and the imagination.
The cartoon cells that seem to be only partially erased from these images
are the modules of thought that can be studied at different times.
Sometimes sublime, sometimes violent, the whole story of the images
reflects a different sum of the parts at every viewing.
Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish filmmaker, makes films that are constructed
in such a way that every person seeing it will see a slightly different picture.
The work of art will coalesce into each individual viewer’s
consciousness in unique ways. Armstrong
admitted that, when his images are working, they are echoing these experiments;
they are modular and multi-layered narratives that interconnect but can be read
in any order.
In an early artists’ statement Armstrong posted an appeal
to gallery visitors who were finding resonances and meanings in the work.
It read: “if you have any answers, the artist would be happy to provide
a full list of questions.” To
experience the nomadic evocations of Cam Armstrong yourself check out his
upcoming solo exhibition at the Joan Ferneyhough Gallery at
157 First Avenue East
. The show runs from September 11th
to October 17th.