Studio Tour: What’s Old Is New Again in Zachary Armstrong’s Paintings


Zacharie Armstrong kills him as a contemporary painter. He has a gallery in New York and exhibits his work in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Beijing. Although he never went to art school, he is an insatiable student of art history.

“A lot of artists that I really, really like are artists that I don’t have much in common with, and that’s why I love them, there’s a lot to learn and understand,” Armstrong said. .

He shows me a xerox copy of a small black and white engraving from 1868.

“This is Gustav Dore’s Council of rats,” he said.

Next door is the painting he is working on – a color remake of the original, as big as a billboard

“When you see that nine by seven inches on a scale that’s like 11 feet by 10 feet, whatever that is, a lot of things change, the negative space, the details, all those things. It’s not not the same picture. So there was a lot of stuff that you blow up and it turns to mush, too much negative space,” Armstrong explained.

“See that rat here in that bottom corner? He asked. “I never really understood what he was holding in his hand, if it’s food, if it’s just a rag, especially if you see that and it’s 20 inches tall. It became really abstract. So after a while I decided to put a block of cheese in his hand instead.”

In addition to changing scale, he paints with encaustic, an ancient Greek technique using colored hot wax.

“So it’s like raw beeswax, and these crystals, and you mix that together, and you just add oil paint,” he said.

Then he sculpts the surface of the wax again to create etched lines and textures, which is his signature technique. He also remade works by Pieter Brueghel and Norman Rockwell. Right now he’s enlarging another Rockwell, of a man working on a stained glass window, to try something new.

Armstrong said, “It’s like, not sculpting and trying to paint as you would say ‘photorealistic.’ Make it look as much like the original Rockwell as possible. But it’s all wax, it’s all encaustic, and one of the reasons why doing this painting is really just to see what you can do with this paint, and paint in as many ways as possible.”

“As an artist, you can benefit from it or give back to the artist you’re working on,” he said. “The way I gave myself a bit of license to create someone else’s art is that I realized that’s kind of how a lot of people start drawing , even when they are young.

And he did too. At the age of six, he became obsessed with the work of British science fiction illustrator Ian Miller.

“One design in particular,” Armstrong recalled.

From a humanoid face with burning eyes under the brim of some kind of helmet. He drew it again and again, and even put it in his paintings.

“And it kept evolving,” he said enthusiastically. “I would change it, I would try to do it exactly the way he would, I would do everything I could to do that. I may not have worked with this image for two years now, and I have I watched the other day, an original by him and I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s still stuff here, I want to do it again!’ »

One of his large-scale face paintings was included in a big solo exhibition he had in China last year. He also made a giant Rockwell for this show.

Normally, in this hyper contemporary art museum where it was, there would never have been a Rockwell in this space.

Or a British science fiction illustrator. These types of works could be considered too old-fashioned or not high art. So he puts them in front of people, and on a large scale, so they can see them with fresh eyes.

All you’re trying to do is show off the greatness and beauty of both and try to learn as much as you can from all of these things. He strives to be open to all kinds of art, to learn from it and also to give back. This is a lesson we can all take to heart.

Studio Visit is produced by Susan Byrnes and created at Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.


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