Interview with Bill Armstrong
This photograph is from Film Noir, the newest iteration of Armstrong’s Infinity series, an ongoing project that he has worked on for more than fifteen years. The work revisits the classic film-noir themes of loneliness, alienation, and the existentialist dilemma with the lush, saturated colors the artist is known for. Solitary figures contemplating the unknown reference the ethical and philosophical dilemmas laid out in the stories and films of the 1940s and ’50s.
As Armstrong notes in an interview about this series, “I’m always trying to bite into the big themes: death, love, redemption, freedom, spirituality. I don’t have the exact quote, but artist Jack Pierson once said something like, ‘If it’s not about lonely, it’s not art.’ Even though that’s apocryphal, I think the fact that we are alone is a major theme today, as much as faith and hope were in the Renaissance, or mortality was to the Romans. In a way I see all these themes as asking the same question. What is the meaning of it all? Does it matter what we do?”
To make these works, Armstrong photographs handmade collages of printed source material with his camera’s focus ring set to infinity. He continues: “In many ways my work is about perception, how we try to resolve images but can’t, and how in that moment of confusion, when we are unsure of what we are seeing, the rational mind is derailed and we are freed to respond on a more subconscious level.”
Signature: Signed and numbered by the artist
Fascinated by the profound effect that color can have on perception and emotions, Bill Armstrong produces lush, semi-abstract, semi-figurative photographs. Working in series, he makes his photographs by taking intentionally blurred photographs of other photographs. For example, for his “Infinity” series, begun in 1997, Armstrong gathers existing photographs—of Roman sculpture, Old Master drawings, or film stills—and alters them in various ways, including cutting them apart or painting over them. He then sets his camera’s lens to “infinity”, an extremely out-of-focus range, and photographs these manipulated images. Explaining his process and its results, he writes: “Extreme de-focusing enables me to blend and distill hues, creating rhapsodies of color that are meditative pieces—glimpses into a space of pure color, beyond our focus, beyond our ken.”
American, b. 1952, based in New York, New York