News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

A spiritual journey across time

J. Chester Armstrong’s latest work is a statement about the evolution of life. He calls it “Out of the Mystic Past Comes the Teaching of the Deer.” Armstrong, better known as “Skip,” is famous among chainsaw artists and wood sculptors, and though his pieces are collected around the world, this one will have its home at Black Butte Ranch.

The public has a chance to see this work of art at Armstrong’s studio on Saturday, August 7. A meet-and-greet starts at 2 p.m., and the unveiling will take place at about 2:30 p.m. The studio is at 68105 Peterson Burn Rd. Sisters Arts Association is promoting this event as an introduction to its annual Artist Studio Tour, September 25-26. Armstrong’s studio will be featured on the tour as well.

The piece is built from Oregon alder, grown on the west side of the Cascades. Timbers were cut, dried, planed, and glued together to create a three-dimensional diagonal canvas, 18 inches thick and approximately six-by-10-feet in dimension.

“As I was sitting in my client’s fireplace area, enjoying a great glass of wine, he turned to me and asked ‘Skip, look around. Is there a place where we could put a great piece of art?’” Armstrong recalled. “And behind me, there was a blank wall, 12 feet high and 15 feet long, with nothing on it. I envisioned immediately that the picture needed to move from right to left, a reversal in context.”

In his mind’s eye, Armstrong saw animals on the move.

“I saw deer, the perfect herd animal, and the momentum they would portray. The dimension I envisioned was time, not space,” Armstrong explained.

The first deer to emerge from the cave are primitive and small. They get larger and sleeker over Skip’s portrayal of time.

His process began with beams, glued together to create the shape of the piece.

“I was able to build the canvas from that,” he said. “The dimension of time I imagined began with the primitive history found in cave paintings. Fifty thousand years ago, humans first put their images on cave walls. They represented their daily life that included procuring food and their spiritual beliefs. The sculpture embodies humanity, animals, and spirituality.”

Armstrong explained: “Cave people lived a fear-based reality — fight or flight — so I created a frightening creature that pokes its head out of the cave. The four humans in the piece are depicted as primitive stick figures because they are part of the cave life. At the same time, that small family represents the client’s family and their dog.”

The deer in the foreground are a modern representation of the deer in the cave paintings.

As a believer in collaborative art, Armstrong gives a lot of credit to his artistic partner, Jan Hansson, to his wife, Anastasia, and to the original cave artists from thousands of years ago.

Armstrong always includes a small part of himself in his major works, and savvy viewers will be able to pick out a pair of hands – Skip’s hands, perhaps – which are also the hands of humanity.

In its raw form, the piece was translucent and opaque, like white marble, before it was oiled and finished. The last phase was to seal the wood with teak oil, giving it a glowing color and the feel of flowing honey.

“It feels warm, like the sun coming up,” Armstrong said.

 

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