Bill Armstrong, Film Noir @ClampArt

JTF (just the facts): A total of 16 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in single room gallery space. All of the works are c-prints, made in 2011 and 2012. The images come in three sizes: 20×24 or reverse (in editions of 10), 30×36 or reverse (in editions of 5) and 40×48 or reverse (in editions of 3). There are 9 prints in the small size, 6 prints in the medium size, and 1 print in the large size on display. (Installation shots at right.).

Comments/Context: In a contemporary photography world dominated by sharpness, Bill Armstrong is a contrarian. Since the late 1990s, he has been making pictures defined by their extreme blurriness, letting his appropriated and collaged compositions dissolve into exercises in visual perception. His newest project begins with the shadowy visual motifs of film noir and turns them into indistinct silhouettes swimming in seas of vibrant, lavish, saturated color. The effect is a sense of heightened moodiness and mystery, well matched to the hard boiled Chandleresque subject matter of men in dark coats.

Armstrong’s blurred approach deftly strips away any specific narrative or distracting details, paring the compositions back to amorphous forms and painterly swaths of color. The most recognizable scenes find lonely men posed against rich yellow and orange sunsets, or hunkered down in drab hues against the encroaching trees or falling rain. Others have an almost futuristic feel, with dark figures faced with long, receding hallways. And many defy any kind of imposed story at all, breaking down into ethereal component parts and bold abstractions of electric yellow, bright purple, royal blue, and fire engine red.

Armstrong clearly has a well developed sense for color, both in harmony and in dissonance. What I find interesting here is that his unconventional methods take him down a different but adjacent road to the photographic color studies we’re generally accustomed to. In his hands, the camera no longer has any connection to normal documentation – its role is more of a distorting filter that upends our ability to discern and categorize. His color experiments are wholly constructed, but still have a whisper of faint recognizability, leaving the viewer in a shimmering, undefined middle ground.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows: the 20×24 prints are $2200, the 30×36 prints are $4500, and the 40×48 prints are $8000. Armstrong’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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