Sculptor Beth Diane Armstrong plays with space

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

IN PERPETUUM by Beth Diane Armstrong, the Standard Bank Award Winner for Fine Art 2017, at the Monument Gallery, 9am to 6pm daily until Sunday.

Beth Diane Armstrong art
Beth Diane Armstrong presents her exhibition in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

Curated and eloquently explained by Emma van der Merwe of the Everard Read galleries, Beth Diane Armstrong’s art exhibition in perpetuum consists of two massive steel sculptures outside the Monument and a room of metal sculptures and drawings inside in the main gallery.

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

At a most helpful art walkabout, Van der Merwe outlined how Armstrong played with the monumental and the intimate, big and not big, perhaps making a molecule huge and next to it, something small, yet complex.

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh
Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

Even the shadows the works cast on the gallery walls are carefully planned to be subtle yet cohesive for this exhibition and Van der Merwe strongly recommends viewing the outdoor sculptures at dawn or dusk to see the full effect. The artist also gave her perspective on the creative process. Sculpting such large works takes physical as well as mental and artistic effort and, for example, in the larger works, one beam might need several men to lift it.

Time is another factor and Armstrong said although she might weld a piece in the relatively short space of 10 days it took far longer to conceptualise and design.

“It took a year and a half to create this work,” she said, gesturing to one of the larger pieces. “Behind every work you see here is weeks, months and sometimes years of calculating.”

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

Armstrong completed her MA in sculpture under Maureen de Jager at Rhodes University in 2010, which is when she took up welding. The octopus-like sculpture – which actually references a seahorse – for example contains 6500 individual welds which had to be precisely measured.

“I measure every angle for a weld. I have to explode chaos and then reign in order to create the work,” Armstrong said. This process of push and pull, and of taking a fleeting feeling and transforming it into a more permanent work of art, is what led to the name of the exhibition– in perpetuum.

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

It suggests something ongoing and everlasting. Take an intricate metal tree, for example, which starts as a loose spool of wire.

“Then I order and structure it and get the wire into its form, and that’s before I can start weaving it. I’ve been making trees for a number of years,” she said, outlining the difference between a rhizome and a tap root in different pieces and their meaning to her. For her, trees act as a symbol of rootedness yet so much of her work is full of air.

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

This echoes her interests and how she embeds these into her art: “I’ve been fascinated by the fractal system and chaos theory ever since I can remember,” Armstrong says. “I have an intuitive feeling of where I am going but my mom is a maths teacher and she helps.”

It’s sounds pretty abstract but she hopes to boil it down to how you feel when you view her work. “It’s about feelings, my sculptures invite you to relate and it is all about personal space. I invite you to come into my show. Here is my process, it’s very tied into me as an individual and an artist, being in the world, in perpetuum.”

Beth Diane Armstrong art
in perpetuum Picture: Gillian McAinsh

Like a photographer, she is consciously playing with light. In this case it is not to capture an image on film – although in perpetuum does include a video with a lovely interplay of light and colour – but to cast shadows and angles in relief through a combination of solid shapes and empty space. The effect is that the whole is more than the sum of its elements. And, after all, isn’t that what art is?

  • in perpetuum is on at the Monument until Sunday, July 9. Entrance is free to all the festival art exhibitions.

 

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