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Local Artist Spotlight: Mary Armstrong

By Amy Cavanaugh
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(credit: courtesy of the artist)

(credit: courtesy of the artist)

BOSTON (CBS) – Artist Mary Armstrong, who teaches painting at Boston College, debuts new work this month at the Victoria Munroe Fine Art Gallery (161 Newbury Street, Boston, MA; 617.523.1354; Tue-Sat, 10am-5:30pm). Mary Armstrong: New Paintings runs December 8 through January 21.

Armstrong divides her time between Georgetown, Maine and Newton, Massachusetts, and she has shown her work at The Orsman Gallery at Smith College, The Portland Museum of Art, and The Maine Center for Contemporary Art, among other places.

She recently talked with CBSBoston.com about her art, her new show, and what inspires her.

CBSBoston.com: How would you describe your aesthetic?
Mary Armstrong: Less is more. I edit rigorously for the essentials. Color moves the air and eye. Form holds the shape and weight and articulates the space. The evidence of the human hand/touch is essential and arresting. Aesthetic arrest is when you vanish into the painting—the self goes and you desire to consume and be consumed by the work.

CBSBoston.com: What goes into a typical painting?
MA: Time, wax oil, sweat, fear, surprise, love.

CBSBoston.com: What media do you use in these new paintings?
MA: Wood panel, gesso, wax and oil paint, Sennelier oil pastels /oil bars/oil paint and medium (linseed oil and turpentine). Very old fashioned!

CBSBoston.com: Do these works mark a change or new direction at all?
MA: Yes! I have been mapping for several years. Two of the last three shows at Victoria Munroe Fine Art have involved working with maps. They were works on paper and had many sections. They expanded into triptychs and occasionally expanded to 4 pieces of paper.

The new work has been a concerted struggle to return to the compression of the rectangle and to work on wood panel again (after a six-year break to paper). It took a year of patient and sometimes frightening trial and error to discover what and how I wanted to work with oil and wax on wood. I discovered that, rather than a map-like space, I wanted to find out how to make a vast illusionistic space in a very small rectangle. To push the space as far back as I could and then to find out what to put in the foreground, right up against the picture plane, that would make the space fly away, deep.

near here Local Artist Spotlight: Mary Armstrong

(credit: Courtesy of the artist)

CBSBoston.com: What are some themes you work with?
MA: Space, light, time, the earth. These are visual anthems to the earth.

CBSBoston.com: How does teaching merge with your studio practice?
MA: I am learning to take my own good advice, sometimes. I love teaching but do not teach my methods. Teaching helps me to pinpoint painterly problems and to engage enthusiastically in a dialogue about the various possible ways to solve the problem(s) that the work presents. It has made me much more patient and trusting in the process.

CBSBoston.com: How many works will you display?
MA: About 20. They’re small and vary in size from 12-inches by 12-inches to 26-inches by 32-inches.

when Local Artist Spotlight: Mary Armstrong

(credit: Courtesy of the artist)

CBSBoston.com: Are there any subjects you gravitate toward?
MA: I am open to everything out there. But, personally, I have become very connected to place—Maine and Venice, where I also have spent some time—and am in open mouthed wonder every moment. The paintings I aspire to make would translate those moments into wax and oil, space and surface.

CBSBoston.com: How would you describe the Boston art scene?
MA: It’s small, struggling, intimate, comfortable. I love the city and its major museums. The gallery scene is a good resource but I still go to New York City frequently to get challenged and inspired. Boston used to be a very affordable city for artists to find studio space in, but not so much now, unfortunately. The art schools are a great asset too. It is a nurturing place but not, perhaps, a challenging one.

CBSBoston.com: Do you have a favorite local event or gallery?
MA: We all loved the Nielson Gallery, which closed several years ago. Nina Nielson and her husband John loved painting and showed great work. Of course I love Victoria Munroe’s gallery and the work she shows. The Boston Sculptors Gallery always has great shows. I love the MFA and The Gardner and the old Fogg at Harvard. There’s the Symphony and The Huntington Theaters. It is a great town to live in. There’s just enough going on and then New York City is not too far!

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