60 Seconds with... Conrad Armstrong
Thu 16th Feb 2017
In the March issue of Artists & Illustrators, we featured 10 artists to watch in 2017. Here's a sneak peek, as Katie McCabe speaks to Conrad Armstrong
When did you start producing art and why?
I am from an artistic family and have always been encouraged to draw, paint and sculpt from an early age. I had a pretty awful experience in institutional art education so didn't truly begin to make serious steps towards becoming an artist until I was about 18 when I became a pupil of the artist Maggi Hambling. She has been my mentor ever since.
Tell us a bit about your process...
An important part of my education with Maggi are her words: "habit is the death of art". The danger in art, is that once you find that winning formula that people 'like' and are willing to pay for, you have the temptation to just churn out works like a designer would produce a product. This is where art dies for me, and for many others. My process is a constant extinction, I want to be as surprised by what is produced at the end of my journey with a work as anyone else. For me an image should be destroyed and pushed to the limit of its existence before it is 'finished'.
What tools would we find in your studio?
The main tools I am using in my studio at the moment are my flame thrower, black rubble sacks, electrical cable and red, white and black oil paint. I also use a pallet knife and a random assortment of brushes I have collected over the years. The art material supplier Atlantis is my main source of more 'normal' art materials, otherwise everything comes from builders' merchants and the streets.
Where did you grow up and did it influence your artwork?
I grew up in Streatham and moved to East London about 10 years ago where all my studios have been. Van Gogh's attitude toward being able to find boundless inspiration within walking distance of your front door had a big influence on me and I spent most of my formative time working 'en plein air' painting Streatham Common and other cityscapes. The city has always been my biggest influence and London has been my muse.
ABOVE Conrad Armstrong in front of his painting City Tension at Saatchi Gallery, London
How would you describe your style?
I am trying to express a feeling of the city and its construction emotionally rather than geometrically. I want to make concrete blush.
What can we look forward to from you over the next year?
I am currently working on a series of 120 paintings and poems in response to a 15th-century satirical work called The Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brandt. The original book contains 120 poems and etchings, some reputedly by Dürer.
In times like these I think satire is more important than ever. Artists have an important role to play as communicators. I had four big exhibitions in 2016, including the one at the Saatchi Gallery, so I am in no great hurry to rush into more exhibitions just yet.
You are one of the many artists involved in the Save Hackney Wick campaign. What can we do to help support Hackney Wick artists?
I am still in the under-threat studios of Vittoria Wharf on Fish Island in Hackney Wick. I have lived and worked in so many studios in London that have been knocked down and replaced with unaffordable housing – it's just part of a nomadic existence.
Hackney Wick has been, and could have continued to be, an absolute power house of creativity for London, but the plans for the area have always been so incredibly short sighted. I think the problem is more a cultural issue towards the arts in Britain. It's still only really viewed as a glorified hobby in this country. I suppose as with any problem, better education is the only way forward.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
"A subject chooses you, you don't choose a subject." – Maggi Hambling
Find out more about Conrad at www.conrad-armstrong.com
Photography: Maguelone Marcenac
LINK TO ARTICLE