UP THE MISSISSIPPI: A Journey of the Blues

Paintings by Will Armstrong

Sept. 19 - Oct. 26, 2014

OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, Sept. 19th, 2014  6-9PM

Up the Mississippi: A Journey of the Blues is an exhibition by Will Armstrong opening Friday, September 19th. This exhibit tracks the history of American Blues music beginning down in the Mississippi Delta. Armstrong then takes you on a road trip, stopping in iconic music cities such as Memphis, until finally reaching Chicago.  The exhibition runs September 19th – October 26th, 2014.

Up the Mississippi is a journey. It starts in rural Clarkston, Mississippi and chronicles the trajectory and popularity of blues music from its roots to eventual decline.  This is an American narrative and Armstrong is the ideal raconteur; he is a passionate musician and host of his own radio show featuring American roots music, blues, and early hillbilly. “[The exhibit] follows time. It follows cities, and some of the pieces are even metaphors for the popularity of blues.” Up the Mississippi begins its visual tale in the 1930s, inspired by the sounds of Robert Johnson, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson I. The road begins with James Cotton and Johnny Cash before jumping onto Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” and ends up in Chicago with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. One of the final pieces even offers a subtle nod to “The Rolling Stones,” indicating music’s transition into modern times.


Similar to his musical inspirations, Armstrong’s visual influences span decades—from the pen and ink caricatures of Thomas Nast, to the graphic novels of Frank Miller and stenciled statements by Banksy. Armstrong’s work has layers of meaning.  He works in mix media utilizing maps and sheet music from the era to set the groundwork for his graphic layers of oil based inks. Vibrant reds, on otherwise monochromatic compositions, signal important moments in the scene. Armstrong explains that these moments are the viewer’s entry point into the painting. It’s where the questions should begin to be asked.

“Love in Vain,” is one of the final paintings in the story and reveals the decline of the blues genre’s popularity. A woman in a red dress catches the viewer’s attention as she stands on the platform watching the train pull away. It’s a metaphor for the waning popularity of blues but “that’s what blues is all about, love lost and love leaving.”

Each composition in Up the Mississippi tells an individual story within the greater Blues’ narrative. Together, they illustrate a journey that is as engaging and layered as blues music itself.  A famous quote by Townes Van Zandt sums up the exhibition perfectly: “It’s all Blues, everything else is just zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

Up the Mississippi: A Journey of the Blues is curated by Gallery Director Chris Jackson and Assistant Director Scott Renfro.

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