Shmosh Angelesh, Seth Armstrong’s first solo exhibition with Unit London, presents the artist’s most consistent and uniform body of work to date. With a strong visual through line and a harmonious colour palette, the exhibition is made up entirely of landscapes and cityscapes that exclusively depict the artist’s native Los Angeles. Expanding on elements from real life, these works enhance the visual appeal of the city to create individually idealised vignettes.
Each painting that Armstrong creates is the product of meticulous process. The artist embarks on various excursions to explore Los Angeles at dawn and dusk. Sometimes travelling no more than a few miles from his home, Armstrong camps out at different viewpoints to take hundreds of photographs of the same scene. At times, Armstrong creates drawings from these many photographs, using them as starting points for his canvas works. At others, he dives straight into painting, spending more time on underpainting to plan his compositions.
In a constant battle with his instinct towards absolute realism, Armstrong aims not to be limited by a concern for precise detail, simplifying shapes into more tangible and fluid forms. Taking liberties with colours and values, the artist uses a flattened perspective, extending these landscapes and cityscapes upwards to translate them onto the level surface of a canvas. For Armstrong, light and subsequently shadow become the most crucial elements of these compositions. As a city with unceasingly clement weather, the evening light offers the greatest potential for variation. As the city begins to cool off and its energy slowly subsides, Armstrong’s observations give way to the subtle changes of light as it crawls across the houses and trees of the Los Angeles hillsides.
These artworks become amalgams of these distinct experiences of light, demonstrating a composite of multiple light sources across different parts of the day. The works capture the dynamism of sunlight as it filters through the dense city smog and the haze of the ocean, as it shoots up from the Los Angeles basin into the mountains and reflects onto the clouds above. In almost a contemporary revival of impressionism, these works capture the fleeting vacillations of light and shadow that are intrinsically unique from moment to moment.
Along with these formal aspects, Armstrong’s newest body of work taps into the innately human urge to peer into the private lives of others in a process that borders on the voyeuristic. Chiming with our natural curiosity, these artworks resonate with the universal desire to connect with others even if we are only glimpsing them from half a mile away. The artist invites the viewer to consider the people who populate these cityscapes, tricking and tempting our eyes with various forms that could be human, encouraging us to imagine the scenarios that might accompany these scenes. Armstrong therefore presents us with his own and slightly less than real version of Los Angeles. Shmosh Angelesh is the iconic city’s seemingly flawless and mysterious counterpart whose reputation so far precedes it that it has become all but completely mythicised. Figures appear and disappear before our eyes, lights flicker behind windowpanes and the forested wilderness that threads through these landscapes is, in reality, a manufactured product planted by the city’s homeowners and tenants. As such, Armstrong’s Shmosh Angelesh appears also as a glib and almost dismissive referral to the myth of the city itself, delicately hinting that Los Angeles might not always match up to the ideal that is so often promised.