John Armstrong, who lives in Toronto, and Paul Collins, who lives in Paris, began a full-fledged collaboration in 2000. Armstrong and Collins both carry out all aspects of their collaboration: painting, writing, photography, and video. Since 2002, they have had over twenty exhibitions in Canada and France.
In 2002, Armstrong and Collins created a collaborative bookwork titled Jim ?, co-published by Coach House Books and the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The bookwork is comprised of 98 paired photographs taken in Canada and France, followed by a section of short narratives written by the artists in either English or French. Both the photographs and the texts document the artists’ responses to a list of 49 variously mundane or idiosyncratic subjects. A parallel exhibition of photographs, also titled Jim ?, was presented first in 2002 at the Robert Birch Gallery (now Birch Libralato), Toronto. The exhibition then traveled to the Art Gallery of Sudbury (2002); Artothèque de Caen, France (2003); Kunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany (2003); Faux Mouvement, Metz, France (2003); Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, New Brunswick (2004); and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, Toronto (2004). Jim ? was also exhibited at the Maison de la culture Côtes-des-Neiges as part of Image & Imagination, the international photography festival Le Mois de la photo à Montréal 2005.
Lakeshore, a series of painted photographs, has been shown at the following locations: Galerie l’Hôtel, Caen, March 2003; Truck, Calgary, November 2004; Platform Centre for Photography and Media Arts, Winnipeg, January 2005; La galerie ESCA, Nîmes, France, March 2006; Oakville Galleries, Oakville (November 2006); Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Art Gallery, Corner Brook, Newfoundland (November 2006); VAV Gallery, Montreal (May 2007). Each of these exhibitions is unique, comprised of recent and existing paintings and, time permitting, wall painting in combination with video projections. Lakeshore consists of over 100 works.
Toronto Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2008 curator Gordon Hatt commissioned Armstrong and Collins to create an HDCAM video to project against the blank wall of a large downtown building. Armstrong and Collins regularly contribute texts to the periodical Papiers Libres Art Contemporain (Nîmes). The artists are included in Magenta Publishing's 2008 survey of contemporary painting in Canada, Carte Blanche: Vol. 2, Painting.
Armstrong has exhibited his solo work in Toronto galleries such as YYZ, Cold City and Birganart. In 2003-04, his solo work was included in the Kunsthalle Erfurt's touring exhibition (described above) The Ironic Turn. A 1998 survey exhibition of his artwork from the 1990s, titled Sanguine, was organized by Cambridge Galleries, and toured to the Owens Art Gallery, Sackville, New Brunswick, and to Plug In ICA, Winnipeg.
Armstrong was a member of the Board of Directors of Mercer Union from 1991 to 1997, and has curated exhibitions in Toronto for Mercer Union, The Museum for Textiles and Harbourfront Centre, in Peterborough for Artspace, and in Kingston for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. He has published many reviews and articles for C International Contemporary Art; his writing has also appeared in ArtsAtlantic, BorderCrossings, Canadian Art and Parachute, as well as in The Globe and Mail.
Armstrong has instructed in the studio division of the joint Sheridan and University of Toronto Art and Art History Program since 1982; additionally, he has taught on the Cultural Studies Program, Trent University (1982-87), and has served as an external assessor for the École régionale des beaux-arts Caen la mer (1996, 1989, 2008) and for the École régionale des beaux-arts de Rouen (1991). Armstrong holds an M.A. from Chelsea School of Art (London, UK) and a B.F.A. from Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB).
Collaborative artists John Armstrong (in Toronto) and Paul Collins (in Paris) paint over parts of each other's photographs using kitschy styles of old-fashioned advertising illustration (and other motifs) to create pleasantly jarring juxtapositions.