Although John Armstrong ARA (1893 – 1973) studied briefly at St John’s Wood School of Art he was essentially self-taught. His one-man exhibition in 1928 established him in avant-garde circles, including that of Unit One with Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and others.
He later became deeply involved in theatre and film, designing sets for the Royal Ballet and costumes for ten of Alexander Korda’s epic films.
He described his own art as ‘handsome if peculiar paintings’, and a video showing interviews with this third wife Annette and an assistant Mary Collette, amongst others, gives an insight into the psyche of the artist.
He was no fashionista but Annette tells us he would have his brown shirts dyed a particular shade of blue at a time when blue shirts did not exist. Similarly, Mary says he always conceived a picture in its entirety, without the need for preparatory studies, and never deviated from it.
His diverse work shows the influence of Surrealism and the art of Giorgio De Chirico, but he was never a Surrealist. Instead he forged a very personal style that attacked conventional ideas and beliefs with ironic wit and personal symbolism.
His anti-war stance was reflected in his Battle paintings. One, The Battle of Nothing (1949) and September 1940(1941).
Stephen Whittle, Manager at The Atkinson Museum & Gallery said:
“John Armstrong’s work deserves to be much better known. He was a really interesting artist who forged a very distinctive style with elements of Surrealis m, decorative abstraction and symbolism.
“This is a great opportunity to see a really comprehensive survey of his work from several private collections and galleries around the UK including the Tate and the Royal Academy.”
The exhibition is supported by a display of work from Armstrong’s contemporaries including Roland Penrose, Tristram Hillier and Marion Elizabeth Adnams. Each throws a spotlight on how British artists responded to the Surrealist movement.
John Armstrong: Dream and Reality can be seen until Sunday 3 September.
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For more information about the exhibitions please visit theatkinson.co.uk or call our friendly Box Office team on 01704 533333.