Alvin Armstrong’s Rhythm Paintings Unveiled

Rhythm Paintings: The Artistry of Alvin Armstrong


In this interview conducted by Charles Moore, we delve into the fascinating world of artist Alvin Armstrong and his captivating rhythm paintings. Born in San Diego, Armstrong’s journey to becoming a renowned painter was a path less traveled. From his childhood memories of his father’s Navy deployments to his discovery of creativity in college, Armstrong’s life has been shaped by movement and a relentless pursuit of artistic expression.

A Creative Awakening

Armstrong’s artistic journey truly began during his college years at Chico State University, where he was exposed to the vibrant world of live music. Inspired by this newfound passion, he embarked on a musical journey of his own, learning to play guitar and immersing himself in the world of music. This exploration opened his eyes to his own creative potential, marking a defining moment in his life.

After completing his stint in the Coast Guard, Armstrong found himself in New York City by chance. Initially uncertain about his future, he gravitated towards a career in acupuncture and eastern medicine. However, a transformative visit to the Brooklyn Museum sparked a new passion within him. He picked up a set of watercolors and began painting, dedicating countless hours to honing his craft. It was during this period that Armstrong’s artistic voice started to emerge.

Life in the Studio

Today, Armstrong’s artistic journey continues in his Bushwick studio, where he devotes his days to creating large-scale scenes bursting with energy. His unique style, which he refers to as “rhythm paintings,” captures the essence of movement and showcases Black lives in motion. With vibrant swathes of paint and carefully placed color blocks, Armstrong’s work comes alive on the canvas, eliciting a palpable sense of heat and energy.

From San Diego to New York: Unveiling the Artist Within

Born and raised in San Diego, Armstrong’s childhood was marked by vivid memories of his father’s Navy career and deployments. Although he cherished his time near the ocean, he always felt a stir within him, urging him to explore beyond the confines of his hometown. It was this longing for adventure and self-discovery that eventually led him to pursue higher education at Chico State University.

During his time at Chico State, Armstrong experienced a creative awakening fueled by the power of live music. As he immersed himself in the vibrant music scene, he found himself drawn to the realm of artistry. This newfound passion was a departure from his sports-oriented upbringing, and it ignited a desire to delve deeper into his own creative potential.

Armstrong’s journey took an unexpected turn when he found himself in New York City in 2013. Initially, he had no intention of settling there permanently but a job opportunity presented itself, and he decided to take a chance. Little did he know that this city known for its vibrant arts scene would become the backdrop for his artistic evolution.

Following His Artistic Calling

While finding his footing in New York City, Armstrong pursued a career in acupuncture and eastern medicine. However, after a transformative visit to the Brooklyn Museum, he felt an inexplicable pull towards the world of painting. Having never explored visual arts extensively before, Armstrong decided to embrace this newfound passion wholeheartedly.

Devoting countless hours to his craft, Armstrong embarked on a two-year journey of intense painting. During this time, he worked diligently, sometimes painting for up to 15 hours a day. Guided by a deep belief in his own potential, he steadily developed his skills and techniques. The fruits of his labor eventually culminated in his first official show in Brooklyn, which served as a turning point in his artistic career.

Painting with Purpose: Malcolm Had Feelings Too

One of Armstrong’s notable series is titled “Malcolm Had Feelings Too” (2020). Consisting of 32 portraits of Malcolm X mid-speech, this series marries Armstrong’s passion for rhythm paintings with his desire to resonate with viewers on a deeper level. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup cans, Armstrong embarked on a mission to paint Malcolm X, capturing the essence of his powerful words and historical significance.

Each painting in the series was meticulously created, with Armstrong immersing himself in visual research to select the most evocative and resonant moments from Malcolm X’s speeches. The vivid colors added by Armstrong serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of Malcolm X and a dedication to the lives lost due to police brutality. Through this series, Armstrong merges his artistic expression with a profound social message.

From Canvas to Equestrian Majesty

Armstrong’s artistic repertoire extends beyond portraits and figures. He has also explored the majestic world of horses, drawing inspiration from his own personal experiences. His connection to horses dates back to childhood, with fond memories of riding horses at his grandfather’s ranch in Kingman, Arizona. This early connection, coupled with his brother’s involvement in saving retired racehorses, sparked Armstrong’s fascination with these graceful creatures.

In his recent work, Armstrong delves into the equine world, capturing the beauty and spirit of horses on canvas. His paintings of horses embody his signature rhythm style, creating a sense of movement that brings these majestic animals to life. Through his art, Armstrong celebrates the profound connection between humans and horses and pays homage to the enduring beauty of these creatures.


Alvin Armstrong’s journey from acupuncturist to renowned painter is a testament to the power of persistence and self-discovery. From his early years in San Diego to his vibrant life in New York City, Armstrong has demonstrated a relentless pursuit of artistic expression. Through his captivating rhythm paintings, he brings to life vibrant scenes full of energy, celebrating Black lives in motion. With each brushstroke, Armstrong invites viewers on a journey of movement and emotion.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did Alvin Armstrong discover his passion for painting?

Alvin Armstrong’s passion for painting was sparked during his college years at Chico State University, where he was exposed to the world of live music. Inspired by this newfound love, he explored his own creativity and began painting, eventually devoting himself fully to the art form.

2. What is the inspiration behind Armstrong’s “Malcolm Had Feelings Too” series?

Armstrong’s “Malcolm Had Feelings Too” series was inspired by Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup cans. Armstrong sought to pay homage to Malcolm X and his powerful speeches, capturing the essence of his words and the enduring legacy of his message.

3. How does Armstrong approach his paintings of horses?

Armstrong’s paintings of horses are a reflection of his personal experiences and connection to these majestic creatures. Drawing from childhood memories and his brother’s involvement in saving retired racehorses, Armstrong aims to capture the beauty, spirit, and movement of horses through his unique rhythm style.

4. What is the significance of movement in Armstrong’s artwork?

Movement plays a central role in Armstrong’s artwork. He strives to convey a sense of energy and rhythm in his paintings, creating an illusion of movement on the canvas. Through his brushstrokes, Armstrong invites viewers to experience the dynamism and vitality inherent in his subjects.

5. How does Armstrong balance his artistic practice with his business responsibilities?

While focused on his artistic practice, Armstrong also diligently manages his business responsibilities. He strives to maintain a structured routine, devoting a significant portion of his time to painting while also engaging in visual research and managing the logistical aspects of his career. This dedication ensures that his work continues to evolve and reach a wider audience.

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