Who: It’s almost an understatement to say Sisters artist J. Chester Armstrong is incredibly skilled with a chain saw. Although he studied philosophy and rhetoric in college, Armstrong “soon found that words were limited,” he told GO! “My real gift was pictures. I could see things in terms of pictures.” His most recent commissioned work, “Conquest Conquistador Thunder,” soon shipping off to Belize, is a large triptych depicting the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire starting with the arrival of the conquistadors.
Q: It was a piece of yours in Vegas that inspired someone to commission “Conquest Conquistador Thunder”?
A: Yes. … This piece has been a direct outcome of a piece I did in Vegas in 2012 … in the Aria hotel in Vegas, in Javier’s Mexican Restaurant. It depicted the Mayan creationism story. It was told metaphorically … (in) five panels, 25-feet wide and 12 (feet) high. … That was the beginning of my sensibility with this kind of art. … This client, who happens to live in Belize and love Vegas … eventually said, “I want one.” He found me on the internet, called me up, and we got to talking about possibilities. He said, “My ancestors are not Mayan. They’re Spanish, and I want to depict the Spanish conquest as an act of valor and crazy audacity.” He came up with the subject, I came up with the imagery. … He’s totally involved in the culture of the church, and the Spanish conquest was not a bad thing, for him. … But of course, it isn’t 100 percent positive. There are so many different sides to the story, and in truth when I started developing the imagery and reading the history, I realized for every good there was three bad from these people. Wall relief, and relief carving itself, is driven by the story. You are literally telling a story … as pictures.
Q: So it’s three panels, and the story is told from left to right?
A: As we read in the Western world, it’s upper left to lower right. … That’s where I started the story, with (Hernan) Cortes coming in his ships and being greeted by the natives. … Basically, it’s a story of cultural technology, one supreme and dominant, the other fading. The Spaniards brought the horse and steel and gunpowder and cannons. Those were the defining factors. I thought the most poetic way to depict that was through the horse and the riders. … The fifth (horse) leads you over to the second panel. … All the drama that happens now is in the plaza square of the center of the one world, and it’s the Aztec Empire … depicted in terms of individual valor. The Aztec culture was a warrior culture, and I wanted to show that this was, on the part of the conquistadors, it was insanely crazy to think they could battle their way through that empire. … As empires fall, new ones begin, and this is the Spanish Empire of Mesoamerica and the New World. The third panel tells that story, a little bit.
Q: Is it hard to let a piece like this go?
A: Yes, it is, really. … I really feel it’s, if you will, chain saw mastery. This represents chain saw mastery of the highest level. To create all these animated characters … in the scale that they are, all blended together in a woven web of overlapping imagery, is really a phenomenal statement. … I just don’t think there are many people in the world that can pull that off. I certainly haven’t ever seen any. … The nature of the chain saw is able reach in and release material way in there, which is really hard to do with a chisel (laughs). The result is a tremendous amount of relief and the three-quarter perspective … really magnifies that perspective and depth.
— David Jasper, The Bulletin