(above) the work of Benjamin Armstrong
This post is a bit of a backtrack - but it warrants visiting, nonetheless.
Some time ago our attention was drawn to a Sebastian Smee pontification in the March 1st Weekend Australian regarding the relevance and/or vigour of the painting scene in a contemporary environment more attuned to mass multi-media ‘fusion’. He finished up with the following gush over a Benjamin Armstrong show at Tolarno…
“Finally, the most dazzling show of the new gallery season — 32-year-old Benjamin Armstrong’s show of glass and wax sculptures and linocuts at the new Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne — reminds us that painting has been only one among many options for ambitiously original artists. Armstrong’s sculptures sit on the floor like empty, inflated condoms or giant eyeballs. They are entrancing objects, eliciting physical responses that flicker between disgust and sensuousness.
Armstrong plays with degrees of transparency and opacity, etching thin lines on the blown glass or lavishly wrapping it in turbans of gorgeously textured white wax. The linocuts are almost, but not quite, as impressive. Their rhythmic, linear designs are printed in metallic pigment or black ink on hand-dyed paper.
The two sets of work — sculptures and prints — speak to each other, generating layers of intrigue. But there’s no doubt that the sculptures are among the strangest, most beguiling works of art produced in Australia in the past 10 years.”
Wethinks Sebastian needs to get out a bit more.
Not that we aren’t into Benjamin’s work – it’s kind of Patricia Piccinini-meets-Roger Rabbit, and the icky abject condom/sprog/flesh component frankly wouldn’t be out of place in the glassworkshop of every art school across the country as we speak. The difference being that such playful investigation is considered immature faffing about, and generally ‘discouraged’ by the time a student advances beyond second year. Craftsmanship – and all that that implies; tradition, technique, skill>virtuosity - takes precedence over dabblings into visceral existentialism. All the more so in this era of aspirant consumerism, where the arts are peddled as a viable and respectable(!) career option and craft is predominently a calculated marketing game.
Very few currently practicing glassies allow themselves the self-indulgence of artistic compulsion in a contemporary art sense - mainly because it’s not fostered by a glass establishment still firmly entrenched in the maw of the decorative arts. So this is a field ordinarily left to artists from other disciplines who are able to blithely trespass into glass territory and casually use the material with impunity, unencumbered by enforced craft historic regulation.
[It's nigh time that glassies broke loose and followed suit. n(Ed)]
Which brings us to another concern – who made the glass component of Benjamin’s work, and why is there no accreditation? Surely there ought be some professional courtesy in this regard. There has, of course, long been an unfortunate trend even within glass circles for practitioners to have their work blown (or kiln-formed, or coldworked) by others, without any acknowledgement of the gaffer et al (but that’s another pandora’s box entirely…)
All good grist for the mill, me hearties.
Have a squizz at Benjamin Armstrong’s exhibition at…
and wait, there’s more…