Zachary Armstrong’s work is laden with symbolic nostalgia. The self-taught artist’s canvases on view at the Tilton Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side are also reminiscent of the work of Jean Dubuffet and the outsider artists he once championed.
Armstrong is in fact somewhat of an outsider, choosing to live and work out of a studio in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The influence of the blue-collar city permeates his work. Compared to market darlings such as Jeff Koons, who rely on dozens of assistants, the 31-year-old artist builds all of his canvases and stretchers himself, and is known for spending marathon 16-hour sessions in the studio.
While the themes of youth and childhood occupy most of the artist’s output, stylistically he is far less consistent, dabbling in myriad painting styles and mediums. On one hand, he creates cartoonish dinosaur paintings reminiscent of children’s room wallpaper and stick figure canvases inspired by his childhood scribbles, and on the other side of the spectrum there are his vertiginous canvas stacks.
Inside his solo show at the Tilton Gallery, a childhood portrait of the artist drawn by his older brother hangs adjacent to the entrance. The picture is a recurring image throughout the show. The image is superimposed multiple times in the artist’s encaustic covered canvases. We walked through the exhibition with the artist who spoke about his hometown, his influences, and his studio practice.