Sunday, February 10, 2002
The Birmingham News

Armstrong's work back in contrasting presentations

WORKS BY SARA GARDEN ARMSTRONG: Littoral Series Drawings at the Vulcan Materials Gallery, Alabama School of Fine Arts, and The Windows, Space One Eleven, through March 8.

Sara Garden Armstrong hones her drawings to an exquisite refinement, recalling the atmospheric musings of the great Chinese landscape painters. There is no excess or tentative gesture in these works. Every line travels across the expanse of paper with poetic sureness. To take away anything would be to diminish the work, to add something would be excessive.

The large drawings, 6 feet high and 10 feet long, float across the walls of the spacious gallery like canted windows onto a shoreline, showing the littoral markings of receding water briefly locked in the wet sand like fragile tentacles searching for something to grasp. The scale of these graphite, pastel and acrylic drawings requires the viewer to stand back, allowing the work to fuse into graceful line games of defining shapes.

A group of smaller works, also part of the littoral series, plays with the same concept, but with the lines more aggressively demanding. The shaded lines and delicately toned surfaces augmented by abaca fiber flecks create a sense of great space. Armstrong does not concern herself with the conventional illusions of depth developed through linear or aerial perspective. The subtle form of depth occurs through the eye and in the mind of the viewer. Delicate shadings only suggest volumes. The substance of these drawings are in their seemingly random design characteristics.

In a pair of groupings of five square panels each, Armstrong pushes and pulls wet abaca fiber paper, modeling the softened surface until it takes on strong tactile qualities. These surfaces can resemble swatches of elephant hide or have the appearance of fixed white clay eddies. Their delicacy and strength are enhanced by being contained in sandblasted· Plexiglass cases.

The works on view in the windows of Space One Eleven step back to Armstrong's "Airplayers" installations. In one window a long, snaking tube wrapped in plastic with a flexible orange light in its core runs from the floor to the wall. The second window is composed of two tubes of painted dryer hose, also containing flexible orange lights. One terminates in a plastic bag placed in a vat. The second tube runs to a sucker-like blob attached to the window, its exposed interior containing a fetal-like plastic bag pulsing with air and an orange tube gently throbbing like an umbilical cord. Interesting works, but crude and obvious compared. with the elegant and intriguing drawings in the littoral series"

It has been a long stretch between Birmingham showings of works by Sara Garden Armstrong and it is good to see her work again. She is an artist of tremendous concentration and expansive imagination whose works can never be taken for granted.

James Nelson is visual arts critic for The Birmingham News.

© 2021 Sara Garden Armstrong