The Abstract Artist We Need in the Age of Trump

A critical review of Dark Times: A Visual Dialectic in Four Parts, by Q. E. Armstrong

The first panel of Q. E. Armstrong’s innovative Dark Times series reveals a playful conversation between black and blue, with other friends chirping in the background. Q. E.’s choice of canvas, simple 8.5 by 11 inch paper from a common retail store, dares us to compare the artist to a two-year-old boy whose father is too cheap to buy him proper supplies, strikingly undercutting the visual independence of the piece.

In the second panel, black is no longer a playful friend; it now overtakes and dominates the other colors. Q. E.’s striking background use of green, red, and yellow evokes the Greeks’ three-part soul with its nutritive, locomotive, and intellectual aspects. Black is something apart, something deeper, something that sinisterly threatens to erupt and blot out the other colors.

The other colors disappear by the third part, forgotten. Black now reigns. And although it attempts to assert some sense of order, ultimately it spirals out of control. I asked Q. E. what the blackness symbolizes to him. He stared at me as though he did not understand the question; who can explain the ineffable?

By the final panel black strikes at the paper, slashing, trying to draw forth as blood the other colors. But they are nowhere in evidence. Are they now too buried to find their way to the surface, or are they gone altogether, absorbed by black?

In reply to a query about the significance of the work overall, Q. E. said only, “One, two, three, four.” There is no understanding beyond the sequence, no external force by which to seek redemption. If we are to rediscover the other colors it is only through black. But then does the piece not end ultimately in contradiction as it presumes the potential of hope beyond itself?

Q. E.’s masterwork is thus the epitome of our times.