Originally born and raised in Streatham, Conrad Armstrong now 26, has moved to the uber desirable surrounds of Hackney Wick where he lives and works in one of the many warehouse spaces in the area. I met Conrad here to see and chat about his new work for a forthcoming show, Shadow Progress at Unit G Gallery in Hackney. He immediately tells me he “studied for a year at St. Martins”, but became quickly frustrated with the academic structure that the university offered. He met and kept in touch with Maggi Hambling who took him under her wing as her protegé. Conrad now decisively cites both Hambling and Van Gogh as influential figures in the development of his work.
The subject matter within Conrad’s work fluctuates between the city and the rural environment, with a visible sense of masculinity running through it. The work in his studio includes metal objects cut and welded in ways that turn a simple material into a significant, ambiguous sculpture. His work has a dark undertone, with sculpted wire rats, oil paintings with dark surfaces and crushed eggs cast from cement. Despite the eclectic mix of mediums, his style comes through boldly. I get the idea that it’s thanks to the tutelage of Hambling that Conrad has developed an ability to express himself beyond the confines of the 2D canvas.
He tells me he wishes to seek a truth within his work without “getting too hung up on what you imagine, or what you feel you should be creating”. He references a painting he did depicting two rough looking tropical birds, trapped behind wire mesh at the zoo. His contemporaries had painted the birds as beautiful tranquil beings, however he was able to look past their immediate beauty and see the truth in their captivity. Conrad tells me that he strives to embody this ‘truth’ in his work in order to portray his vision as honestly as possible.
We talk more about his new show and he explains that all of the works took on their meaning after he completed them. This enables the conceptual message of his work to form in a natural way, rather than be predetermined. It’s this aspect of his practice that is so compelling; his reliance on the subconscious mind to inform the direction of his work.
I left Conrad’s studio after an interesting 3 hour conversation, which ranged from Churchill to Hitler to Van Gogh but it was the imposing nature of his metal sculptures, and the dark, earthy textures of his paintings that stayed with me.
photographs by Issy Crocker
Conrad’s latest exhibition, SHADOW PROGRESS opens to the public from the 6 May at Unit G Gallery in Hackney