Abstract Earth Gallery

SculpturePainting & DrawingFiber and Paper

James Armstrong

Artist's Statement  ::
These are 35mm slide photographs, the distorted images of ordinary household things (colored towels, vases, tea kettles, glassware, on and on) piled into rough-and-ready still lifes as reflected in .05 mm Acetate film.

This film ceased to be manufactured in 1993 and without itís unique reflective qualities, such pictures can never be made again. In fact, no single image could be re-created when it was available for from moment to moment, at each miniscule shift from a puff of breeze or in my position in relation to one of these hyper-sensitive sheets of acetate hanging from a rod produced a new image. ..So each of these Camera Paintings is an absolutely unique vision of something wonderfully strange and beautiful.

Mirrored acetate had a softly shiny mirror coating on the back. Its purpose was to be made into roll-up shades for windows facing west or south. One could see through it dimly, but it was a good sun screen. What killed it was that it was extremely easy to mar the mirror coating. For all my care, each piece in time became unusable and Iíd go to the plastic place in Oakland and buy another five feet.

It came as a real shock, finally, to discover I'd been buying pieces from the last roll of the stuff in existence! When I realized this, I called several such places around the country and all I came up with was one manufacturer or plastic sheetings down near San Jose who'd make me a 2 ton roll to order - - I'm guessing at the weight, because the stuff is heavy, and I didn't care or dare to ask how much!

Mylar is no good for this. Too crinkly and too bright. Nothing else has the magic this acetate film. (I know, because Iím always looking.)

I discovered its reflective powers by accident - - a classic instance of not seeing whatís in front of my eyes. I first saw sheets of the stuff backing a booth displaying cymbidium orchids at a big flower show in San Francisco. All I saw was the shine, however, and thought it would be something different to use as background in my photos of flowers and bouquets . I found out what the shiny stuff was, bought six feet of it 4 feet wide, tried it as background and it didnít work. But I left it hanging in my studio and one lucky day really looked and saw the wild, weird and wonderful reflection of boxes and things shelved on the opposite wall. I just stood there, flabbergasted and inspired, and then I got out my Canons - - and that was the origin of Camera Paintings.

The more I worked with in this medium, the more exciting an experience it became. This crazy acetate film did not merely distort, it created - from the arrangements of objects and colored fabrics put before it - realms of fantasy and mystery nobody could possibly have ever seen before. I was fascinated by the complexity of some of this imagery because the more your eyes scanned it, the more you discovered - - faces, places, animals, rituals, - strange structures, other-dimensional vistas. I hung sheets of the film here and there inside my home. Bookcases were especially fruitful. Twice I took it out into the garden, but days in this region are seldom completely breezeless and the film was seldom perfectly still.

When I found that there was no more of this film to be bought anywhere, ever, a whole field of creativity disappeared and I felt bereft.

But I got over it.

Pieces by James Armstrong:

* Some of these artworks may not be for sale.

Biography  ::
Born January 11, 1925 in Alexandria Louisiana. Moved to California in 1929, raised and educated through Junior College in Salinas, California (then Lettuce Capital Of the World). Came WWII. Luckily I wasnít drafted until after Germany surrendered. From 1945 to 1953 I was stationed in Germany, three years as soldier, four more as civilian employee of the Occupation. While there I was lucky and clever enough to get posted as script-writer to the Armed Forces Network, in Frankfurt, where I learned the writing of radio dramas and documentaries, announcing, news reading, directing and acting. (That was the happiest time of my life

In the Sixties, in Berkeley, aside from a dreary and frustrating Civil Service job, I wrote, produced and acted in a series of radio dramas (spoofs of various types of old movies) which were enormously successful and repeated occasionally for at least twenty years. But my big accomplishment then was creating a small nightclub review "The Macaroni Show" that for four years ran weekends in The Old Spaghetti Factory Cafť in San Franciscoís North Beach. I wrote lyrics and sketches and was a song-and-dance man

In 1966 upon the slimmest of promises of gainful employment as a script writer I moved to Hollywood to win fame and fortune writing for movies and television. No luck , but a lot of experiences I fashioned into a novel that has yet to find the right agent/publisher. I moved back to San Francisco in 1970.

For almost nine years in the Seventies and Eighties I was Bay Area Representative for After Dark Magazine, still the nations nationís only magazine of entertainment. It died from over-editing in 1989. I contributed monthly columns, articles and picture-spreads about The Scene in these parts. Concurrently, I was black-and-white photographer for the San Francisco Ballet, worked for other dance and theatre companies, did fashion and portrait photography, and contributed pictures and articles to Dance Magazine, After Dark's sister publication. It was during these years that I acquired and honed my skills as a dance, portrait, theatre and all-round photographer.

In 1986, over-dosed on what I came to see as toe-dancing, I left the Ballet's employ and - with some difficulty and a deal of luck - became a free-lance travel writer/ photographer Also, for twenty years now, my photographs of various subjects, but principally of flowers (both tame ones from my garden and wildflowers in the wild) have appeared as calendars and date-books published by CEDCO Publishing Co, of San Rafael, California.