The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
One, two, three, fur [1,2,3, Fur] 1972
sculpture, hardwood, chain, wooden lasts, fur
32.0 (h) x 101.4 (w) x 18.0 (d) cm
6 September 1978 [unknown location]
James Gleeson: John, have you anything to say about the works themselves? Do they have any special meaning for you? Prism, for instance, does the name imply anything?
John Armstrong: No, not really. Actually, yes, it does. Because the three, Prism, Bag rack and Feet–the work I’ve been doing before this, a lot had sort of strange titles. I can’t even remember some. Do you remember some of them?
James Gleeson: Well, I remember Cold shoulder.
John Armstrong: That’s right, yes, things that were sort of—
James Gleeson: One, two, three, fur—
John Armstrong: That’s right, yes. Things that are sort of—
James Gleeson: Puns on puns.
John Armstrong: Puns and jokes. It annoyed me that a lot of people were sort of looking on them purely as visual puns as well. I mean, yes, sure, that played a bit of a part. But when I was being remembered as punster rather than a sculptor it was—you know, this was a direct—
James Gleeson: Reaction.
John Armstrong: Yes, a direct reaction against that. So, you know, and still now I just give things very simple titles. But I was still sort of caught up in the sort of excitement of showing, you know.
James Gleeson: Well, one of the things that has always struck me about your work, which distinguishes it from that of other sculptors certainly in Australia at that time, was your preference for using ready-made objects, objects easily obtained in all sorts of places, material that up to that time hadn’t been regarded as traditional sculptural materials like bronze and marble and so on.
John Armstrong: Yes.
James Gleeson: Have you always felt that urge to make your things from the less traditional materials?
John Armstrong: Yes. Possibly when I was at art school it was brought about initially because of, you know, no money. But no, well, I’ve definitely got an affinity to that. I mean, Jack Lynn described me as a bush carpenter artist, and I suppose it’s part of my sort of Australian heritage.
James Gleeson: The grand media, like bronze and marble has never appealed to you?
John Armstrong: Never appealed to me because it’s not something I can directly do—oh, possibly marble or something like that, you know. No, hang on, start again on that. Bronze uses a lot of technique, a lot of other people necessarily. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand working with anyone else. Marble is just such a time consuming thing. Even wood-carving, I mean, you know, if I can cut a piece of wood with a chain saw, well, that’s swift enough. I want immediate reaction because I do sort of work immediately in the actual materials. I do a lot of preliminary sketches, more sort of blueprint, you know, carpenters drawings type things, rather than finished drawings. I’ve never shown any sculpture drawings. Then I play around with the bits and pieces until they look right, yes, which can be a bit strenuous, particularly with something like Prism.
James Gleeson: Prism, well, as far as I’m concerned it’s probably your masterpiece. It’s the one I find the most lastingly satisfying. Not that they all aren’t, but that one seems to have a character of its own. A monumentality, a precision, and a clarity and yet an ambiguity that I think is terrific.
John Armstrong: Yes, it’s a nice piece. I’ve enjoyed putting it together. I put it together a few times, you know, in Sao Paulo or in Australia. In Sao Paulo, in Perth, and in Canberra, was it? Yes, it’s a nice sort of feeling to reach the end of it every time, and yes. It would be nice to see it up on permanent exhibition.
James Gleeson: When the gallery gets opened, yes, yes.
John Armstrong: Yes.