Artist finds expression through meticulous process of manufacturing sculptures

Young artist Armstrong followed what seemed a more innate and raw passion within her, writes Eugene Yiga

22 August 2017 - 15:03 By Eugene Yiga
Visual artist Beth Diane Armstrong.
Visual artist Beth Diane Armstrong.
Image: Courtesy of Standard Bank Young Artist Award

Beth Diane Armstrong is the winner of the 2017 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art.

The Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg is showing In Perpetuum, her first major solo exhibition and the first cohesive body of work she's put together since 2011.

I started taking art seriously ...

Because my dad was my art teacher for most of my high school. Both my grandfathers and my father painted while I was growing up. Our house was full of their paintings.

My mom was a fan of Escher and my dad a fan of Dali and I poured over books by both artists. I've always expressed myself through my hands.

I decided to become an artist ...

After toying with the idea of going into medicine or genetics - but I decided to follow what seemed a more innate and raw passion in me at that stage, though my research interests are still more directed at medical, mathematical and scientific topics. But my means of being in the world and of expression are more artistic.

On a typical day ...

Years back when I was working alone, slower and on one project at a time. I would disappear behind my welding machine for hours, sometimes days at a time.

Now I have a bigger studio, two fulltime assistants and a fabricator who helps me with my larger pieces, so my days are divided between everyone's tasks, keeping track, tracking progress and doing my own solitary work as well.

I no longer have the luxury of endless solitude I used to have. It's not bad, just different and inevitable as a sculptor and maker of big things.

The themes of this exhibition ...

Are about process on many levels. I'm process-bound in my approach to artmaking but process, in obvious and non-obvious ways, underpins things thematically and conceptually too.

Beth Diane Armstrong's Division process.
Beth Diane Armstrong's Division process.
Image: Courtesy of Everard Read

This translate into the works ...

Both trees and rhizomes in their different ways evoke ideas of infinity and fractal imagery. Fractals are concepts of infinity within a finite space.

There's a large body of drawings and an endless looping video, which is new to anyone who knows my work.

Each work can be spoken about in detail in relation to the title of the exhibition and in relation to each other work. There are a number of underlying themes, but they fall under a broad umbrella and weave together.

The effect on viewers ...

I don't like to prescribe an experience on the viewer. They are presented with things that can be recognised and things that can't be recognised. The viewers bring their own set of conscious and subconscious reactions to the works.

The idea is that the audience is given an environment and an opportunity; to engage with themselves, their feeling, their reactions and their thoughts; to quiet their minds and be in the present moment.

• In Perpetuum is on at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg until September 30

• This article was originally published in The Times.

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