Thursday, September 8, 2011

Introducing Bob Armstrong

The artist, Bob Armstrong
AG - I've noticed that the native environment of an artist often leaves the strongest visual imprint. Where did you grow up and how do you see this primary environment affecting your work?

BA - I grew up in San Francisco, and that has deeply affected my perceptions of the world. SF is at once the most European and most Asian of all the cities in the US, and that influence is present in my artwork. I value the history and practice of art in both Europe and the US, but I also am drawn to Asian art, particularly Japanese art, with its subtlety and quiet beauty. I used to visit the Brundage Asian Art collection at the old deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. That collection now provides the basis of the current collection at the much newer Asian Art Museum. Having friends and going to school with people of Asian ancestry has also clearly influenced my sensibility and therefore my artwork.

AG - How did you first come to doing art? Was it ever a hobby or part-time passion before you went full-time?

BA - I was initially interested in doing political cartooning at the end of my stay in college, which was an outgrowth of my interest in American history and politics. When I graduated from Cal, I started to take cartooning classes, and realized that I would have to become a much better draftsman. This led me to take classes in figure drawing, and then in watercolor painting, which got me hooked on fine art.
Carved Yellow Quince, mixed media, 12"x24"

AG - What other jobs have you done? 

BA - I have been a retail clerk, a college enrollment clerk, a handyman, a house painter, a bartender, a waiter, a truck driver, a delivery manager, and an elementary school art coordinator.
Waterfall (for Hawaii)
acrylic on canvas, 18"x12"

AG - When did you commit to doing art full-time?

BA - When I first joined the Artists Guild, I wanted to do art full time. My first year was a slow year in terms of sales, but the years thereafter were much better, and allowed me to continue doing art professionally.

AG - Many people have described the move to being a full-time artist as a "leap of faith". How did this transition affect you?

BA - I have a restless mind, and enjoy doing new styles of work and learning constantly about painting. 
I have tried to the best of my ability to be experimental and creative while acknowledging the demands of selling artwork in a public venue.  Making the transition to being a full time artist meant that my life was more cleanly aligned with my interior and exterior goals, and that I did not have to split my focus in the way that I had to do formerly.

Vertical Quince
acrylic on canvas, 20"x16"
AG - Did your family support you in your artistic passion? How has the support, or lack thereof, affected your artistic direction?

BA - My family has always supported me in my drive to be an artist. My parents, both of whom are now deceased, supported me in my goal to do art, and used to bring me tea and cookies at Guild art shows. My wife continues to support me to this day, both emotionally and economically, in my art pursuits. I would not have been able to be an artist without their support. This has allowed me to go my own direction with my work, and to remain creatively freer.

AG - Describe a day in the life. What studio hours do you keep and how do you balance other demands in your life?

BA - I work part time as the art coordinator at a public elementary school in the Mission district of San Francisco. My job there is to bring art into the lives of the school children as deeply and in as varied a manner as I can. I teach the parents there how to teach art in their child's classroom, and administer the dance, music and movement teachers. I also schedule assemblies and field trips to museums and cultural institutions, as well as report to the parents about my activities. This job takes from 3 to 4 hours per day. When I finish there, I come home and paint for 3 hours or so. Then, I drive my daughter to various sports activities, and help her in the evening with whatever homework she has. I answer emails and do my art business in the evening, while trying to find time for my lovely wife.

AG - Art making is intrinsically a domain of much uncertainty. Artists tend to be adventurous people. Have you taken big risks in other areas of your life? Tell me a wild story about yourself!

BA - I lived for two years in West Berlin, before the Wall came down, when it was an island in the midst of East Germany. While in Berlin, I audited classes at the Hochschule der Kunst, the Art University there. I took classes in portraiture and figure drawing and painting, but not in art theory, as my German language skills were so poor. I bartended part time there at the Olympic Stadium, working at a British junior ranks military pub. After work, I would sometimes visit the Egyptian Museum on my way home, which at that time had free admission. I would park my bicycle and stop in to view the bust of Nefertiti, which was foremost among the many treasures that were on view there.
Carved Green Birch, mixed media, 10"x22"