In 1991, I began to work on oval-format paintings: smaller-scaled paintings (47 x 56 cm) with a longer horizontal axis, and larger ones (162 x 132 cm) on the vertical axis. The oval format was used historically in conjunction with portraiture. Perhaps the portrait format was a substitute for the personalized product names I had previously used in my paintings. I used fewer elements in the oval paintings, and distributed a diversity of sources across several pieces in an exhibition.
The oval paintings indvidually feature text, roses, or an ersatz abstract ground. And pattern is emphasized; for example, the same snippet of text is used repeatedly in one painting to form a kind of chant or visual mantra. (The texts are popular maxims or adages that characterize (and even complain about) busy-ness and the fleeting nature of time, such as “Busy as a fart in a mitt” or “I am not an eight-day clock.”)
I painted both in oil on linen, and on a number of other supports: photographs, sandcarved glass mirrors, bubble wrap, cardboard, and stacked-up-and-stitched-together billboard posters. The juxtaposition of visibly crafted components — such as the pairing of sandcarved glass roses in a large mirror with a painting of roses of a similar shape and scale — contextualizes painting within traditions of craft, skewing painting’s sometimes burdensome relationship to the canon of Western art history.
Armstrong has exhibited his solo work in Toronto galleries such as YYZ, Cold City and Birganart. In 2003-04, his solo work was included in the Kunsthalle Erfurt’s touring exhibition (described above) The Ironic Turn. A 1998 survey exhibition of his artwork from the 1990s, titled Sanguine, was organized by Cambridge Galleries, and toured to the Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, New Brunswick, and to Plug In ICA, Winnipeg.
Armstrong was a member of the Board of Directors of Mercer Union from 1991 to 1997, and has curated exhibitions in Toronto for Mercer Union, The Museum for Textiles and Harbourfront Centre, in Peterborough for Artspace, and in Kingston for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. He has published many reviews and articles for C International Contemporary Art; his writing has also appeared in ArtsAtlantic, BorderCrossings, Canadian Art and Parachute, as well as in The Globe and Mail.
Armstrong has instructed in the studio division of the joint Sheridan and University of Toronto Art and Art History Program since 1982; additionally, he has taught on the Cultural Studies Program, Trent University (1982-87), and has served as an external assessor for the École régionale des beaux-arts Caen la mer (1996, 1989, 2008) and for the École régionale des beaux-arts de Rouen (1991). Armstrong holds an M.A. from Chelsea School of Art (London, UK) and a B.F.A. from Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB).