Aggie Armstrong is a multidisciplinary artist, working primarily with watercolors and acrylics. She is currently exploring how to merge pigment and fiber arts (embroidery) together.
Aggie is influenced by post-impressionism and neo-expressionism which she tries to revisit in her work through the traditional wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry watercolor techniques with high flow acrylics. She looks to these past art movements and experiments with style mash-ups through color and distorted subject matter.
Her current work’s intent is to explore how to bring the fiber arts from a predominantly feminine and domestically relegated skill to its rightful place as a respected fine art media. Throughout the work, she asked the following questions, and hope that you also consider these while you view the work: Does needlepoint become less of a domestic craft when it is combined with paint and hung on white gallery walls? Did sewing on a physical canvas make it more elitist than if it were done simply on cloth and embroidery hoop? Is it fine art when a male artist incorporates it in his art practice? Where does fiber art belong?
Aggie was born in Manila, Philippines, and moved to London, Canada when she was 18 years old. She graduated from the Fine Arts Program at Fanshawe College and received her Bachelor of Arts degree with a minor in Art History at Western University (previously the University of Western Ontario).
Aggie currently resides in Oxford County, about an hour and a half west of Toronto, with her husband and daughter.
She works out of an old milk house she and her husband transformed into her art studio.
Hello Aggie! You were born in Manila, Philippines, but moved to London, Canada when you were 18. How much is your art influenced by your hometown, if at all?
Aggie: Thank you so much for featuring me. It’s great to be a part of your art community.
I’d say my art is influenced by my experiences growing up, rather than my hometown per se. I’m inclined to say that art is a combination of being an adult third culture kid***.
(***from Wikipedia: Third culture kids (TCK) are individuals who are (or were as children) raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years. They typically are exposed to a greater volume and variety of cultural influences than those who grow up in one particular cultural setting.  The term applies to both adults and children, as the term “kid” refers to an individual’s formative or developmental years. However, for clarification, sometimes the term adult third culture kid (ATCK) is used.
TCKs move between cultures before they have had the opportunity to fully develop their personal and cultural identity. The first culture of such individuals refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and although not widely agreed upon by the TCK community, some sources refer to the third culture as the amalgamation of this two culture)
You say you are influenced by post-impressionism and neo-expressionism. Tell us more about that. Where did your interest in those fields first come from?
Aggie: I graduated with a degree in Visual Arts and I always connected with the art movement in France around the turn of the 19th century (around 1880-1905)for some reason. I love the artists’ (Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Carr, Valadon, etc) disregard for the natural or supernatural depiction of color and light, and their focus on symbolism and structure instead.
One can say that the neo-expressionism is similar in the sense that the artists of this movement (Basquiat, Kiefer, Schnabel, Salle, Frankenthaler, etc) favored more of the subject matter itself than the technical aspects of painting as well. Jean-Michel Basquiat was once quoted saying “I want to make paintings that look as if they were made by a child”. His brute and raw way of painting certainly achieved that.
By no means am I saying that the technical aspects of painting need not matter – because they do. Like most things, one has to know the rules in order to break them. The artists valued their take on the subject matter as to how they saw/experienced for themselves which is what I try to do as well. I try not to replicate or copy but use what I see or feel as inspiration.
Did you have a lightbulb moment in your journey as an artist that sparked your commitment to pursue art more seriously?
Aggie: I was working in the corporate world (marketing and communications – and although the compensation was good, I wasn’t creatively fulfilled. In 2011, I knew that I had to make a change, and incorporated my art business. I started with photography and have eased into my art practice, making original art. I still take commissions, but I’ve been a working artist for almost a decade now. I’m not going to say that the journey has been easy and smooth sailing. But I’ve persevered, worked hard and I haven’t looked back since.
You also have some interesting questions yourself. So where do you think fibre art belongs?
Aggie: I think Fibre Art has been relegated as a domestic craft since it has been predominantly done by women. But when a man puts it in his art, it’s considered high art. Just look at Grayson Perry and his work. I think it’s just fairly recently that fibre art has been relegated to its proper place in the arts – a true piece of expression and storytelling avenue.
Tell me about your studio that you and your husband transformed from an old milk house. And what is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Aggie: I love my milkhouse studio. It’s not the biggest of studios, but I am able to stay in there for hours, making pieces in silence or blasting my music. I don’t particularly have a ritual to get in the zone, I just need to keep on working when inspiration hits until the sun goes down. The studio is bright, and there are enough lights in there, but I feel better painting in natural light for some reason.
What is the most challenging part of working with acrylics? And what is the best part about working with acrylics?
Aggie: I like working with acrylics, it’s stable and I’m used to it, but there’s not the surprise that watercolor gives with the blooms of pigments when it hits the water.
How has your style changed or evolved over the years?
Aggie: I used to think that I have to keep art pretty, and always be stuck with a realistic sense of imagery. These days, negative spaces and paint drips are my favorite. I also don’t feel like I have to cover every inch of the canvas with color or imagery anymore.
Who are a few artists/people that really inspire you right now, and why?
Aggie: I have a few artists I follow on Instagram right now;
Katy Biele – a Chilean Fibre Artist residing in Canada. She’s primarily the one who inspired me on my mixed media merge of embroidery and painting. I love her work.
Alice Cavanaugh – she uses watercolor-like no one’s business. She’s a top tier artist.
Marina Dempster – she’s a Canadian Sculptural Fibre artist – she uses traditional techniques, but her installations are remarkably modern.
Yayoi Kusama – I could get lost in her Infinity Mirror rooms and Dot Obsessions.
Lora Moore – her photographic images are so ethereal, the underwater shots are sublime.
Amy Sherald – Michelle Obama’s portrait – enough said.
Malcolm Liepke – his paintings harken back to old masters but with a fresh modern touch.
What is the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on?
Aggie: I have to say that my piece called Quilted Memory has a special place in my heart. It was the piece where I felt most confident, and the one that spurred Eighties Tapestry, and more in the works right now. I’m going to take the pixelated face paintings as far as I can.
What are you working on right now, and what is next for Aggie?
Aggie: I’m currently working on paintings that are intended to be printed. They are coming out in November and people who sign up for my Art Bulletin on my website will get early access to these prints. They will only be available for a limited time next month. I’m also working on the continuation of my Common Thread Series, a second volume if you will. I’m working on having it available in early 2021.
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