By Nichole Gronvold Roller
Inland Art is a regular featured column in Community Word newspaper. This article was first published on August 25, 2021. Used by Contemporary Art Center of Peoria with permission.
The career path of an artist is unique. They’re self-taught, supplement their practice through residencies, workshops; study under a master, learn through a university; the options are plentiful. Timing of their commitment is another variable that provides definition to one’s journey.
Duffy Armstrong’s trajectory as an artist began after an initial interest in classical piano subsided with episodes of stage fright. While she still plays the piano for her enjoyment, uncovering her stage fright unveiled her interests in the visual arts.
Armstrong attended Bradley University (1968-1972), completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in printmaking and photography from the Department of Art. Influential artists she encountered in school continue to impact Armstrong’s artwork. While attending Bradley University, she was introduced to visiting artist Minor White and recalls that “… his concepts in philosophy have stayed with me to this day. You can see it in my work, in my photography in particular.” Additional notable artists who provided direction for Armstrong were Nita Sunderland, James Hansen, and Dow Mitchell, all former Bradley professors.
Armstrong had to put her art-making on hold when she became a single parent and needed to support herself and her daughter. Although the artist could not entirely focus on her artwork, Armstrong found other avenues being involved in the Peoria art community with her numerous contributions in leadership and volunteerism. She was instrumental in Peoria’s downtown Fine Art Fair, the Sculpture Walk, and helped to found the Friends of Art in support of establishing the Cradle Oak Press. Armstrong has been a curator, gallery director, museum educator and has served on countless boards and committees.
In discussing what has changed in Armstrong’s life that resulted in shifting attention to art-making, she proclaims, “I walked my path that I could and did a lot of good things, but now I just want to pull in and just want to be me. I don’t want to constantly be on a board or engage in an organization or take a leadership position. I did those things.”
Armstrong is stepping aside while encouraging the younger generation to fulfill their role; she is eager to shed her professional persona and devote her energy towards her artwork.
“On My Mind,” by Duffy Armstrong, 2020, graphite stick and acrylic, 8 inches by 8 inches. (PHOTO SUPPLIED BY ARTIST)
Full of enthusiasm and ideas, Armstrong is settling in her new spacious studio at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria. She would like to continue her collaborative project, “The Face of Women,” a documentation of how artists portray themselves or others, questioning whether women’s lives have changed/advanced, if at all. Devoted to supporting and promoting artists, the “Pink Gingko,” another partnership created by Armstrong and branded by Lettering Works, is a collective featuring Armstrong’s desire to highlight collaborative work, artistic ideas, and information about artists in a public format.
Armstrong’s art, often reflective of her daily happenings, is an impromptu of what the artist is feeling and thinking at the moment, “a simple line, like a simple note, or the sight and relationship of light and dark, large or small in proportions, is the beginning of a story.” The multi-disciplinary artist possesses a natural, confident gestural quality in her drawings and plans to work larger while focusing on a similar motion with paint. Armstrong approaches her practice with a freshness of freedom, not having to be anything but herself; she wants to explore and do what was put on pause earlier in life.
Duffy Armstrong’s artwork may be found at duffyarmstrong.com.
More Community Word articles can be found at Community Word – monthly newspaper based in Peoria, IL