L.C. Armstrong: Flowerscapes
The Directors of Marlborough Gallery announce that painter L.C. Armstrong will exhibit new work at Marlborough Chelsea, 545 West 25th Street, from April 30 through May 30, 2009, marking her second exhibition with the gallery. Painting in her signature technique – acrylic with bomb fuse and resin on linen – Armstrong’s show will feature highly saturated, fantastical landscape and flower paintings that teem with humans, animals and imagined creatures. Called “exotic, sinuous and erotically charged” (New York Times), Armstrong’s seductive paintings reflect her keen interest in the history of art, ecology, and popular culture while implying a beautiful world gone awry.
Armstrong’s exhibition will include sixteen paintings completed between 2007 and 2009, including two large triptychs measuring four by twelve feet (121.9 x 365.8 cm): Poppy Passion Pyre, 2007, and Rainbow Over Dumbo, 2008. The former depicts an array of vermillion poppies
aflame over a field of dappled green clover and a glittering body of water colored by a setting sun. White, semi-transparent moths flutter across the sky attracted to the burning flowers and scored pods. Two figures populate this world on fire – a small child who holds onto a kite string attached to a lone, unburnt poppy, and a blindfolded woman with a birdcage on her head, two surreal elements among a harrowing landscape that reminds the viewer of both the perils and beauty of nature.
Rainbow Over Dumbo is a luminous depiction of the pillars of the Brooklyn Bridge framed by two cascading waterfalls. The bridge’s span is hidden in the mists of the East River, while a dazzling rainbow arcs across the water. Fire eaters, three bathing elephants, and a whip-cracking costumed ringmaster complete this heady scene. The whole is criss-crossed by gigantic purple, burgundy, puce and yellow irises with stems “painted” in the burnt residue of bomb fuse with which Armstrong sears the painted linen. This surface of this painting, like the others in this exhibition, is poured with a glassy coat of resin that renders the paintings slickly
impenetrable and heightens their trompe l’oeil artificiality. Armstrong’s dedication to the melding of high and low culture is exemplified by this work, with inspiration as varied as Greek mythology (Iris is the personified goddess of the rainbow, the messenger of the gods to humans), Walt Disney’s delightful pachyderm, her studio neighborhood in Brooklyn, DUMBO
(Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and Hudson River School painters such as Frederic Edwin Church (i.e., Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866, The Aegean Sea, 1877) and Albert Bierstadt (i.e., Niagara, 1869), whose Romantic idealization of nature informed their depiction of the landscape as a manifestation of God. Consciously engaging the utopian and the kitsch, Armstrong dedicates her expert hand to an exploration of earth’s majesty and folly.
Joining these are canvases such as Tornado Over Tulips, 2007, measuring 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.9 cm) and Passion Flower Power Play, 2008, measuring 36 x 32 inches (91.4 x 81.3 cm), which depicts a girl bending forward, her back to a dazzling blue ocean where two young boys raise their arms in a victory sign in the water. Birds of paradise, passion flowers and orchids, aggressively cheery in their tones of magenta, orange and pink, form a screen through which the viewer beholds this childhood drama.
Five small paintings, all measuring 18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm) and completed in 2009, will also be included in Armstrong’s show. They form a kind of suite of poppies, each with one blooming flower and the portrait of a young female artist, all former assistants to Armstrong. Entitled Avis Over Ashley, Blumen Over Lumin, Dragonfly Over Debbie, Jackal Over Jaclyn and Spider Over Sarah, this group of beautiful and slightly uncanny paintings can be likened to the portrait miniature of old, an intimate depiction of a visage for one’s private contemplation. When Armstrong started painting flowers and landscapes in the early 1990s, few of her contemporaries focused on these subjects. Landscapes, flowers and pretty sunsets were subjects so denigrated that they were ripe for re-investigation. Adoption of this subject matter allowed Armstrong to expand her pallet to its fullest and her intensive study of color facilitated this pursuit. She comments on her artistic heritage, which ranges from 19th Century art to the custom car garages of Los Angeles: “Influences in my work begin with the Northern Romantic Landscape artists Caspar David Friedrich and Philip Runge through the Hudson River School and Luminists such as John F. Kensett and Martin Johnson Heade, to the westerns of John Ford with the lone figure in the sunset through pop album covers and van murals to California artists like Minimalist John McCracken, whose studio was a few miles from my father’s neon sign shop.”
Born in Humbolt, Tennessee, Armstrong completed two degrees from Pasadena’s Art College Center of Design and San Francisco’s Art Institute, all the while customizing vans, motorcycles, airplanes and hot rod cars, perfecting her technique and supporting herself through school. In 1991, Armstrong was the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and in that same year her work was included in The Corcoran Biennial. After her first solo show in Cologne, Germany in 1991, Armstrong exhibited at White Columns in 1992 and over the next fifteen years with galleries in New York, Washington, Frankfurt and Paris. An exhibition of her large
paintings, L.C. Armstrong: The Paradise Triptychs, was held at The Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL, from September through December 2008.
Armstrong’s work has been included in a number of significant thematic exhibitions, including Open House, at the Brooklyn Museum and Flower Power, Musée des Beaux Arts, Lille, both in 2004; POPulence, at the Blaffer Gallery, The Art Museum of the University of Houston, TX in 2005; Revising Arcadia, at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL and Garden Paradise, at the Arsenal Gallery, Central Park, New York, both in 2006. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Harvard University, Cambridge; The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, among others.
A fully illustrated catalogue, with an essay by E. Luanne McKinnon, Director, University of New Mexico Art Museum, will be available at the time of the exhibition.