Artist Bob Armstrong presents a collection of carved and painted wood panels and triptychs featuring botanical designs from the American west. Visit his website to see more of his work.
I was born and grew up in San Francisco. It is a dense urban environment, yet natural beauty is everywhere. The buildings and roads serve as a canvas for the clear California light, and the hills offer stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the Bay. There is also much greenery and many parks both large and small, including Golden Gate Park. Inspiration for my art is readily available wherever my eye rests.
San Francisco is a great jumping off place for seeing California. I really enjoy the nearby state parks in Marin and Sonoma counties, as well as national parks like the Pinnacles and Yosemite.
I travel throughout the western part of the country in the summer, and especially love Montana. I’ve been highly moved by the beauty of the plains and Badlands in the eastern part of that state, and the otherworldly beauty of Yellowstone in the southwest. I have been equally moved by the vistas and the vertiginous mountains of the northwest. Glacier National Park shines with its lakes and carpets of woods.
Three summers ago, my wife and I started at Glacier and drove to Alaska. Particularly memorable was our visit to Denali National Park. We traveled to Exit Glacier just outside it, in the Kenai Fjords National Park. The wildness and majesty of all those Western landscapes has been the inspiration for many of my carved paintings.
Regarding my medium and technique—for the last 11 years, I have hand-carved and painted birch panels using nature as my theme. In these carved paintings, usually triptychs, I work with the elements of texture, pattern and color.
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I counterpoise positive and negative spaces on the right and left sections. The center section is meant to offer a transition, where the viewer can rest their eye and contemplate the entirety. I use wood because this organic material reminds the viewer immediately of nature, and on it I do shallow relief carving which creates texture. I use hand tools only—a 1/8” V gouge and a 1/4” flat chisel.
Once I have finished carving the panel, I use acrylic paint as a stain to add focused, monochromatic color. The relationship between these sections creates a feeling which is intended to be evocative and poetic.
Whether in San Francisco or some other lovely place, I spend time observing the landscape and exploring the plants native to the area. I search for flowers or plants that engender a strong esthetic and emotional response from me, and then do drawings that become carvings.
It is this emotional engagement I bring to my work that underpins them and provides their strength and attraction. I create minimal and elegant designs that honor and reflect the beauty of the seasons, the flowers, the trees and the natural patterns.
Ours is a beautiful world, and deserves to be celebrated and preserved. I always hope that my art helps raise environmental awareness, and that it makes us think about what is beautiful and what we should never lose.
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