John Armstrong

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Duo focus artistic talents on lakeshore


Points of departure, arrival, language, photography and painting all come together in the latest show in Gairloch Gardens.

Paul Collins and John Armstrong's show at Oakville Galleries, Lakeshore, features a series of colour photographs that include either painted words or images.

"We are painters, so we wanted to integrate painting into the project," said Collins, who calls Paris home and works out of a studio there. "We were looking for a new project and we saw photography as a way of extending the discourse of painting."

Collins and Armstrong met while studying at York University in 1974 and have "been working together ever since," said Armstrong.

They came up with the title of the show, and the idea grew from there.

"So we talked about, what is a lakeshore? A lakeshore is a point of departure, point of arrival. That idea of a threshold," said Collins. "We wanted to take it further."

"It can be an edge, a kind of unexpected break from something," added Armstrong. "A fragmentation."

Armstrong, who has been teaching art at Sheridan College for the past 25 years, now works out of Toronto. He'll either go to Paris for a few months at a time or Collins will come to Toronto so they can work together.

The pair also frequently email the photographs back and forth.

Some of the pieces in Lakeshore are "very Oakville specific," said Armstrong, including a few video installments Oakville residents will recognize, as well as a picture taken at the Oakville Museum.

Many of the photographs have been complemented with painted pictures of vessels, mugs or drinking glasses.

"We started painting them during the Walkerton crisis. We don't think of them being overtly political, but there is a consciousness of water that has paralleled our work," said Armstrong. "First they were cups, then they became vessels containing water. Most of these glasses are just glasses from our homes. We're not trying to overtly make a political statement."

In fact, the pair hope viewers draw their own meaning from their works, using the words on the photographs, the painting and the photo itself to derive meaning.

"I think lakeshore comes in, in that it really is a jumping off point for the creation of meaning," said Collins. "Meaning just starts to manifest itself. You, as the viewer, add to the work, create the work."

"We're in the middle of it. We're still constructing meaning," added Armstrong. "We basically exhaust the possibility of all meaning or interpretation."

While words accompany many of the photos, Collins says, "There's no real relationship between the words and the photograph."

That may be the case, but Collins and Armstrong say the painting always gets more attention.

"Language always wins. That will determine the meaning," said Armstrong. "We're playing with the idea of language as the image."

Added Collins, "I think the word itself comes forward and takes over very quickly."

One photograph, for example, features a nice park with the words 'I don't buy it' painted overtop.

In terms of their selection for photographs, Collins says, "We try to attain that state of awareness all the time, wherever we go."

"We often find something and then we go back to it and find a way to photograph it," added Armstrong.

John Armstrong and Paul Collins' Lakeshore, curated by Marnie Fleming, runs at Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens until Jan. 14.

The Oakville Beaver, December 15, 2006
Photo: Ashlea Wessel