Preaching to the Disconcerted – Michael Armstrong
The universe is a leaf on a time-tree, and come autumn it’s going to shrivel and fall
off into hell
– China Mieville, Kraken, 2010
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea
– Luke, 21:25-26
Loose canvases seethe with paint and movement, billowing and boiling in an abstract configuration of incendiary colour, expansive movement and layered depths. Dwarfed by this prophetic inundation of apocalyptic world-end scenarios, the “disconcerted” of the exhibition title are just that: mildly perturbed or naively insensible as the symbols of modernity – the cars, the boats, the great ocean liners – risk complete erasure in a dramatic performance of climate change.
The seven works that make up Preaching to the Disconcerted use a foundation of abstraction to portray a world erupting out of human order and control. Multiple layers of glazed paint swell against a darkening backdrop, engulfing the canvas in a furious performance of storms, inundated shorelines, toxic waterways and oceanic vortices. In a Turner-esque evocation of the wild power of nature, we witness a portentous enactment of nature gone terrifyingly wrong, of air and water gushing, frothing, seeping and leaking in terrible volatility.
Against these fields of abstraction, threads of white paint track a narrative path, detailing the curve and crash of a stylised wave (a nod perhaps to famed Japanese ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai), the steel girders of industrial construction, the modes of world transport, the trusted security of a family home, the obliviousness of a middle-aged couple sitting in contented domesticity. All are tossed around in their sea of paint, submerged by or emerging from a Biblical-scale maelstrom of surging colour. This dichotomy, between the drawn frailty of the figurative human forms and the looming depths of painted cataclysm, invites a reading that is at once political and humorous, cautionary and fantastical: paired feet suggest a comically calamitous end; the dull ball of a sun hints at atmospheric congestion; evidence of human enterprise points to our misplaced faith in our ability to protect our future in the face of unfettered commercial and political prerogative.
Painting is in itself a quiet political protest in a world of total immersion in business driven consumerism, economic models, corporatisation and centralised hegemonies. On the level of the collective unconscious, of the dream, these works are images of the mind’s eye, the imagination, with other meanings and associations.
– Michael Armstrong, July, 2017
Michael Armstrong studied art at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in Christchurch. Since then he has
exhibited in numerous group and solo shows throughout the country and in Australia, most recently The Blurred Fringes of the Hyperbolic at Ashburton Art Gallery in 2017. His many awards include the prestigious Francis Hodgkins Fellowship, the Heartland Sculpture Award and Fulbright Wallace Arts Trust Award. Michael is lecturer and programme co-ordinator of art at the Ara Institute of Canterbury, (formerly Aoraki Polytechnic) in Timaru.