UNSPOKEN / BUDDHAS / MANDALAS
July 13 - September 2, 2023
Opening Reception: Thursday, July 13, 5:30-7:30 PM
Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of photographs by Bill Armstrong. On view are three portfolios from his Infinity series, an ongoing project initiated twenty-five years ago. As part of his unique process, Armstrong appropriates found images that he photocopies, cuts, paints, and re-photographs; he then blends the collaged elements together to create brilliantly colored, seamless images. In these ethereal worlds, the “contrast, harmony, and gradations of color are the driving forces behind a subliminal chromatic psychology.”
Unspoken, one of the three featured portfolios, is an investigation of the human experience, of the emotional and psychological push and pull of interpersonal relationships. Each image depicts two figures in an indeterminate space structured by planes of vibrant color that either run parallel or intersect at dizzying angles. Some of the pairs address each other and some look askance, an analog for the enduring or tenuous connections between them. Facial features are blurred, transforming the figures into archetypes of the human psyche. All we can glean from these relationships lies in the nuances of body language and gesture, the pull created by the negative space, and the vibrating effects of color. The viewer is called into a deeper, almost meditative realm that exists below the level of language. The unspoken narratives conjure visceral emotions — from longing and desire to tension and distance — though the true nature of the relationship can never be fully known.
These scenes are atemporal, universal in their emotion and timeless in their relationship to our innate humanity. As such, Armstrong’s practice references art movements throughout history, highlighting the commonality of the human experience over time and synthesizing it into one image. Armstrong’s palette and spatial divisions are reminiscent of the California landscape, a nod to the Bay Area Figurative artists. Within the figures, we see references to the frozen monumentality of Classical statues. The implied narratives of some works reference ancient mythologies; in the artist’s words, “the male gaze reminds us of the fate of Actaeon as he happens upon Diana bathing; or, in the opposite direction, Diana’s gaze upon Endymion,” as her kiss leads to an eternal sleep.
Also on view is Armstrong’s Mandala portfolio—a visual ode to Eastern mandalas, which are composed of concentric circles embodying central teachings within different ancient traditions, such as the Wheel of Life or the Map of the Cosmos. Here, Armstrong’s technique of extreme defocusing creates mesmerizing rhapsodies of color that seem to pulse with a life all their own. This effect invites the viewer to journey into a space beyond the immediate world, where the boundaries between animate and inanimate blur and meld, evoking a glimpse of the infinite and the interconnectedness of all things. These Mandalas beckon us toward an experience of transcendence and pure joy, opening up a space to explore spiritual themes and feelings, free from ideology or dogma.
The Buddha photographs similarly delve into questions of spirituality and consciousness. Sourced from books and internet archives, these images utilize effects of dematerialization to reconsider the mutability and ephemerality of forms we take for granted as durable and enduring. Armstrong’s process of appropriation, which is predicated on the re-use of materials, also speaks to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation. These beautifully haunting, mesmerizing images serve as a powerful reminder of the transformative potential of art to expand our understanding of the world around us and our experience within it.
Born in 1952 and based in New York, Bill Armstrong earned his B.A. from Boston University in 1979. The prize-winning artist has exhibited extensively throughout North America and internationally and has taught at New York’s School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography. His art can be found in the permanent collections of the Vatican Museum, the Getty Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and Bibliothèque National de France, among others. This is his third solo exhibition at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.