John Armstrong headshot

John Armstrong

Program Coordinator of Art and Art History Program

Studio Art (Painting)
visual artist, writer, curator (B.F.A. Mount Allison University, M.A. Chelsea School of Art)

Outline of Research

In my painted montages, I combine signpainted text, copied or invented illustrations and straight-ahead observational still-life painting. I borrow from overlapping traditions of painting as both a commercial and fine art medium, and I think of these varied approaches to painting as separate languages with often conflicting aims. The motifs I choose are largely drawn from material that is either contemporary or from the last half century or so, and are associated with everyday living and advertising. My print sources are posters, magazines, and product packaging, and I paint directly from objects that I have purchased or found such as cut flowers, drinking glasses and cleaning products. I place the images and text on either painterly abstract grounds or on a number of other surfaces and objects to further extend their poetic or editorial direction.


John Armstrong has exhibited his work in Toronto galleries such as YYZ, Cold City and Robert Birch. In 2003-04, his work was included in The Ironic Turn, a survey of contemporary Canadian art that originated at the Kunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany, and traveled to public galleries in France and Canada. A 1998 survey exhibition of his artwork from the 1990s, titled Sanguine, was organized by Cambridge Galleries and Plug In Inc., and toured to several Canadian destinations.

In 1999, Armstrong began collaborating with Paris artist Paul Collins. They each carry out all aspects of their collaboration: painting, writing, photography, performance and video. Armstrong and Collins have exhibited their work in numerous group and solo exhibitions across Canada. They have also exhibited in France, Germany and China.  In 2002, Armstrong and Collins published Jim , an artist’s book, with Coach House Books in Toronto; and their work is included in publications for two recent surveys of contemporary painting in Canada: Carte Blanche: Vol. 2, Painting in 2008 and 60 Painters in 2012. Armstrong and Collins are represented by General Hardware Contemporary in Toronto.

Armstrong was a member of the Board of Directors of Mercer Union, Toronto from 1991 to 1997, and has curated exhibitions in Toronto for Mercer Union, The Museum for Textiles and Harbourfront Centre, in Peterborough for Artspace, and in Kingston for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. He has published many reviews and articles for C International Contemporary Art; his writing has also appeared in The Globe and Mail, ArtsAtlantic, BorderCrossings, Canadian Art and Parachute, as well as in a number of public gallery exhibition catalogues.

Approach to Teaching

In our four years of painting courses, which is the area I teach in, students are introduced to painting techniques and media, as well as to a diverse range of historical and contemporary artists' practices. Students are encouraged to develop an area of personal artistic research informed both by their own enthusiasms and interests as well as by their understanding of the works of other artists. In years two, three, and four, the students' artworks are discussed on an on-going basis in class critiques where students and the instructor share the responsibility for developing a community of open and constructive debate. Although the most obvious benefit of the critique is the response the student receives from others, of equal importance is the experience gained through editing and criticizing the work of the other participants. My hope is that graduates will make sophisticated and highly personal paintings, as well as have a sense of how their paintings, as vehicles of communication, may be interpreted.

For more on John Armstrong's activities see:

John Armstrong's Website
Centre for Canadian Contemporary Art