by Joshua Kelly Published in The Tiger Newspaper
If you woke up this morning and thought to yourself something along the lines of “Well, I really like watching football but my girlfriend wishes that I was a bit more cultured and liked artsy stuff…” then I just might be able to help you out. David Armistead, a Master of Fine Arts in the Visual Arts candidate, is a painter whose subject matter isn’t typical of “fine art” but perhaps should be.
If you conduct a rudimentary survey of the great master painters you will find that many have engaged with subject matter that was politically relevant and culturally dominate for their times. Armistead follows these guidelines as well; dealing with the idea of the contemporary cultural hero and ideas of a glamorous life that comes with the territory, the body of work he is producing for his thesis show focuses on the true American pastime – football.
“Growing up in the south, and as a southern male being a larger guy, there was always expectations for me to play football,” Armistead said, “However, I was always interested in the arts, so I just started to meld those two together.”
Although he has found some resistance to this approach, as football is not typical subject matter of gallery-minded artists, he is not alone in the art world discussing this topic. (Matthew Barney and Catherine Opie are two other artists which have dealt with football as subject matter.) It might even be apt to consider him slightly ahead of the curve in the art world for identifying and highlighting the cultural impact that football (and other mainstream sports) has not just on culture but on the relevance/survivability of fringe aspects of culture. When asked why he chose to go against the mainstream of the art world Armistead replied: “I think that art is a reflection of culture. I think that is always the way that it has been and that’s the way it should be; in order for me to be honest to myself (as an artist) I’m going to focus on cultures that I am a part of [which is football].”
“The goal of my work is to push the importance of sports,” according to Armistead. By pointing out just how much of a political player that sports franchises can be (at a professional and sometimes collegiate level) his work advances past a simple rendering of team colors or significant sports locations. In the modern economic world, success of a sports team translates to economic growth of the host city or town. In turn, this grants more political force and influence to the city, but also the team/coaches/owners that run the economic powerhouse. In a very real way, football is shaping a large portion of our cultural values and we are aware of only the obvious influences.
Formally Armistead’s work is complex and relies on precise application of colors. To him, this reflects the precision that is required to succeed on the field. “I like to draw comparisons. [Football] is a lot more complex than people think it is; there are a lot of factors and it starts to function like theater.”
Armistead’s thesis show, “Command Shift” will be on display in the Lee Gallery from November 4th-11th (he will be showing with fellow M.F.A. candidate Katy Butler) and is open to both sports fans and non-sports fans alike. Although the ideal audience loves (and understands) the power structures behind American football, Armistead’s work is accessible to patrons of sports and non-sports backgrounds alike. His methods and techniques highlight the intrinsic ideas of discipline, conditioning, and repetition that make an athlete successful on the field and show that the same mindset can be applied to anything else in life. Finally it is socially acceptable to admit that you like looking at pigments on canvas and watching people beat the tar out of each other. It is a good time to be an artist and a football fan.