Potheads, Q&A with artist Erin Armstrong

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Erin Armstrong is the Canadian-born and Toronto-based contemporary artist. Her bold paintings have gained her a prestigious and growing international reputation: she has had work presented by design-icon Donna Karen in New York and held a residency at Los Angeles’ ESXLA, whilst also being labelled “One to Watch” by the Saatchi Art’s chief curator. Indeed, it takes only a cursory glance over her Instagram feed to see that this reputation is thoroughly deserved.

Her style is distinct, confidently using colour and pockets of pattern to create pieces which grab your attention and refuse to let it go (something that has become very apparent whilst sat at my desk trying to get other work done!). But Erin’s art is as thought-provoking as it is aesthetically beautiful. Taking the genre of portraiture as a springboard, she toys with traditional figurative painting, utilising recognisably human forms as a vehicle to express intangible feelings, sensations and atmospheres as the human imagination is visually explored.

Given all that’s been said above, I’d say it’s pretty clear that we here at Pad hold an opinion that is shared by many across the world: Erin Armstrong is fab. And that is why we are very honoured to be the exclusive UK stockist of Erin’s latest Potheads collection of original painted jugs, vases and bowls. A small series was first showcased at a recent solo show, “Before They Are Gone”, in Geneva and now a specially commissioned collection have made their way to Pad Lifestyle stores at Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge and Edinburgh. What’s more, we’ve also been blessed with Erin’s words as she agreed to do a Q&A with us and tell us more about her inspirations behind her step into the world of ceramics, the answers to which can be enjoyed and digested below…

Firstly Erin, why did you decide to give ceramics a go? Was there any specific motivation behind the Pothead series?
It started about 6 months ago when I was beginning to work on my exhibition coming up in Geneva. I was interested in incorporating a new medium other than just painting and drawing. The show was focused on climate change and the fragile balance between humans interaction with nature. I felt that creating ceramics that were depicted as abstract human heads with plants popping out of them fit the show's theme and portrayed that delicate balance.

Did you have any issues with translating your practice into a different medium?
It took a few attempts and some experimentation before things started flowing, but overall it was a pretty easy transition. A lot of the faces and patterns I sketched out on paper before and used them as a reference while I was painting them on the ceramics.

Is this a brief dalliance with ceramics or do you feel this is just the beginning of your work in this medium?
I’ve been focused for many years now on just painting and drawing so it’s been a lot of fun to start playing with a new medium. I’m hoping to just continue making more from here and keep experimenting.

Picasso is one name that came up in the office when discussing possible inspiration, have you been inspired by his ceramics? Who or what have been the main inspirations for the series and your art more generally?
His work is always fantastic and I’m certainly inspired by him in my practice. However, when I was creating the ceramics I was basing the simple lines and colour palette mainly off of the paintings I had already made for the show, which were very simple figurative line paintings that focused heavily on colour blocking and pattern.

Most of my inspiration is accumulated from looking at a ton of different art be it paintings, ceramics, photography, architecture etc. and then I sort of narrow down the specific aspects of each work I’ve been drawn to. Hopefully, that translates to me creating my own voice in the work and something that is unique.

Ceramics and plant pots seem to appear in a number of your paintings, and in some, they are taken as the central and sole subject matter. What is it that you love about ceramics? 
I think there’s a really interesting history behind ceramics as an ancient art practice that is intriguing to me. Ceramics have been around for thousands of years and are so historically linked to antiquity, fragility, wealth, beauty, and storytelling. Pottery became a very appealing vessel for me to use because it is a great way to create a balance of new and old and tell a story through modern imagery using a very old classical method of art making.

What’s next on your agenda? More solo shows? More ceramics? 
I’m currently working towards my next solo exhibit which will be opening in Montreal on April 11th at Duran Mashaal Gallery. I’m hoping to incorporate some new ceramics into the show and I will continue to make them as the year continues!

Finally, if you could have any ceramic piece in your house from the annals of art history what would it be? Why? And, where would you be putting it?
There are a lot of really interesting ceramics artist working right now, creating work that bridges that link between old and new within the medium that I’m really drawn too. Someone who has done that really well in a very interesting and smart way is an artist name Lei Xue in his series “drinking tea”. I would choose either those works or one of artist Zemer Peled who makes really large scale porcelain shard sculptures. I’d probably put it in my living room or somewhere I am all the time so I could enjoy it!

zemer-peled-porcelain-shard-sculptureLei Xue "Drinking Tea"