Oamaru is teeming with artistic talent, often tucked away in solitary splendour with or without the lockdown, so the Oamaru Mail is prising open studio doors to meet the creative people inside. This week’s artist is Jeff Armstrong, president of the North Otago Art Society.
Q What sort of art do you create?
I paint mainly in oils on canvas and enjoy experimenting with a range of subject matter including landscape and, latterly, portraiture. I suppose my style could be classified as “loose realism”, enjoying the lovely squishy textural possibilities inherent in the oil medium. I am interested in storytelling in my work and revealing the essence of form, natural or man-made, in light. I’m a studio painter and often utilise multiple references from various sources when composing and have no difficulty in painting what “ought to be there” rather what is actually there – it’s a painting, not a photograph.
Q Do you have formal training or are you more self-taught?
I have had no formal training other than attending quite a few classes over the years. However, I read extensively and absorb the wisdom and the techniques of the greats wherever I can. I trained as an architect and practised architecture both in New Zealand and internationally for 40-plus years before retiring, so drawing was and remains a foundational skill and continues to form an essential precursory element in my work.
Q How long have you been involved in this art form?
I have always drawn and painted as long as I can remember, though frustratingly intermittently during my architectural career. Retirement was my opportunity to get it going in a more prolific way again.
Q What is its appeal to you?
I like to think the creative impulse is inherent in everyone (look at children, who can all create art without apology), based on the understanding that we are all made in the “Imago Dei” – the image of God. So the pursuit of “creative making” is deep within our mental and spiritual DNA and the urge to make or paint is a response to this at a pretty fundamental level.
Q Do you experiment with new approaches and techniques?
Yes, I like to try different media every now and then and I have tried copying other styles just to see how they did it. My primary struggle is toward a looser technique and out of the straitjacket which the exacting requirements of making architecture have conditioned me to some extent.
Q Are you planning to branch out into other art forms?
At this stage, no.
Q How does your art fit into the rest of your life – is it purely for relaxation, do you earn income from it, are you aiming to make it a career?
It’s primarily a hobby, though the relaxation bit is questionable, considering the internal wrestling and energy expended during the creation of a piece. Nevertheless it’s extremely gratifying to occasionally sell a work or win an award, as it means I’m not just “talking to myself”!
Q How responsive is the local community to artists and their art?
I’m involved with the North Otago Art Society (which has been in existence for 90 years) and it’s always good to see local people as well as tourists coming in to our Customs House Gallery in the historic precinct. Conversely, we are often amazed at the number of locals who confess they didn’t know we existed! I guess the arts will always struggle in a world which primarily values utility over beauty, the material over the spiritual.
Q If you could design a perfect world, what role would art play?
A perfect world would certainly be a place where the joy of making and the creative expression of life, beauty, unity and diversity in an infinite variety of ways would be accessible and enjoyed by everyone.