Frame 61

Ned Armstrong

Frame 61
Ned Armstrong

"I think that it’s important to get to a point where I’m making moment to moment decisions so that I’m open to the surprises and discoveries"


Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I completed a foundation course at City and Guilds, and from there went onto the Edinburgh College of Art to complete a BA. I stayed on for one year in Edinburgh working in an art shop and painting, then I moved on down to London at the end of 2016 after some time back at home in Lewes.

You use strips of paper and objects found in your studio to help create these works, could you tell us a bit about your process?

I had this problem with making paintings that somehow, I needed to come at the painting indirectly. I think that it’s important to get to a point where I’m making moment to moment decisions so that I’m open to the surprises and discoveries that are so important to making a picture. So, over time I began to realise that in order to get to this mindset as often as possible, I needed to have different areas of activity where I was making things that I could then put into the paintings, that I wouldn’t otherwise think of putting into the same picture.

So initially, I began painting onto newsprint, I’d draw loosely on one, soak another in paint, make up a pattern and then rip it into strips. This ripping was kind of a way of dealing with form in the paintings. Form had been something that I have struggled with painting abstractly and I knew that I needed to have something to input rather than making up forms as I went along, collage provides a very direct way of doing this. The strips provide two edges that create negative space outside of them whilst also being containers of what I had painted onto them. I keep the strips at the base of the wall that I paint on so they pick up spills and stains from other things that I am working on, and in this way, lots of different areas of practice can coalesce.

This then expanded as I began to put any residual, glue-able objects at the base of the wall, old paint pots, used tea bags, post it notes, old book sleeves. I suppose it’s a way for all these things to be recycled and rethought. They also have resistant qualities, like the circular shape of a coffee cup base throws up some formal problems that you have to resolve in making the picture.

"...twelve..." 10/11/17

"...twelve..." 10/11/17

"...four..." 10/09/2017

"...nine..." 24/11/17

Do you work on many paintings at the same time? Do you feel there is some sort of language between them, like each painting responds to the next?

I do work on a number of things at once, at the moment I have seven paintings on the go.

I don’t think they respond to each other as that feels too straightforward, it’s not as linear as one leading directly to the next. I can stop working on a painting because I have run out of ideas for it, but then pick it up six months later and finish it in 5 minutes, so I think things jump around quite a lot.

Having said this I think that ideas or actions do resonate about the place, or get picked up across the paintings. Especially with collage, there will be parts from the paper that are on multiple canvases and so when seen together one might recognise shared colours and marks. Varda Caivano summed it up well with the idea of a studio being like a head, with the paintings being thoughts. I think this is how the works coexist.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

I work a couple of days a week at a gallery to pay the bills, and the other 3/4 days I paint. I like to get in early and paint for long periods of time. One of the things I love about painting is how direct it is, and that one can go to the studio and just get on with work without having to organise too many different things. It’s like an acoustic instrument, in that you can pick it up and get going.

I share my studio with four other people so I’ve got their stuff around me too, and everyone’s kind of provisionally set up to do what they need to do. I really like this openness that studios have, how they shape themselves to be what you need.

The wall I paint on is covered in residual marks, that I think inform quite a lot of the marks I make in the paintings and I like the muddiness of paint, when it becomes silty and grey so I have lots of old dirtied pots on the floor amongst the rags and collaging materials. I like the idea that paintings are rooms to fill rooms and that there’s this poetic relationship between paintings and the rooms they inhabit. I think that the activity in the studio, of tidying it, it then getting messy, it filling up, it emptying, is pretty much what happens in a painting, they both breathe in the same way.

"...three..." 17/10/2017

"...three..." 17/10/2017

"...six..." 11/10/17

"...eight..." 13/12/17

How do you go about naming your work?

For a long time I felt naming paintings to be the most embarrassing thing possible, and I’d use vaguely poetic one liners or plays on words that I thought resonated with the work somehow. I tried to think of the embarrassment as being a good thing, but nonetheless felt mortified when I heard my titles read back to me. Words always felt misleading in relation to what I was doing, like I was being fleeting or frivolous with the naming and so it always felt like a crass after thought.

I wanted a way to name the work that alluded to an ongoing practice, whilst also stating the singularity of the painting. So, each work is numbered when I start it, with an ellipsis on either side. When I finish the painting I date it, which confuses things, with painting “. . . five. . .” finishing before “. . .three. . .”. I like what this suggests about time getting mixed up when making the paintings, and that the titles and dates quietly articulate an element of how the works are made.

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I went to the Cezanne portraits show and thought it was great. In particular the early paintings of Hortense Fiquet and the delicate paintings of his son.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I have a few paintings in a show on the 23rd of February in Manchester at the P.S. Mirabel gallery, curated by Joe O’Rourke. Then I am showing some new works on paper at a rectory that some friends live in and run a crit programme called Spindleshanks. Following that I am heading up to Edinburgh to do a residency at Basic Mountain gallery in April with a collective I’m one ninth of called G.E.L.

All images are courtesy of the artist
Interview publish date: 15/02/2018