Working mostly from reproductions of Renaissance drawings featuring the human figure in different states of movement and repose, Armstrong eliminates much of the original perspective by painting over figure and background with a striking set of colors. Enough shading is visible through the paint, however, to give the figures a subtle sense of modeling. By setting his camera to infinity before photographing the images, the resulting prints are rendered mysteriously out of focus. Such an effect serves to heighten both the kinesthetic energy of the silhouetted bodies as well as the ambiguity of their actions: was the original body bent over in despair or bowed in reverence, leaping into an abyss or preparing for a great embrace? This uncertainty, combined with the arresting juxtaposition of color and flatness of space, frees the viewer’s emotional response.
The writer and curator W.M. Hunt expounds upon Armstrong’s fascination with visual perception and the viewer’s struggle to resolve the images: “If Muybridge was documenting linear movement in a direct and pre-cinematic style, then Armstrong is liberating those figures from the photographic plane. They are released into a limbo, possibly infinite and eternal. He illustrates freefall and doom, delight and despair. It is our specter, once caught in the two dimensional rectangle, now let to venture out, almost from the wall.” (W.M. Hunt, Shadow in the Sun)
Bill Armstrong was born in 1952 and currently lives in New York City. He graduated magna cum laude in 1979 from Boston University with a B.A. in the History of Art and later earned his M.B.A. Armstrong has exhibited at institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Hayward Gallery, London, and Musee De l’Elysse, Lausanne; his work can also be found in the permanent collections of the Bilbliotheque National de France, Paris, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The recipient of numerous awards for his art, Armstrong is a professor of photography at the School of Visual Arts and teaches at the International Center of Photography, New York City.