Image: © Richard Heaven
Tributes and messages of condolence have been posted to social media overnight as news that Ventnor’s celebrated poet, John Armstrong, had passed away after a short illness.
Hailing from Middlesborough, but having lived on the Island for decades, we met John about 15 years ago, first knowing him as a disability activist and then as a performance artist.
Passion about his art
John was passionate about sharing his art and providing an opportunity for others to use art to express themselves.
He pulled together regular ‘open mic’ poetry events (the brilliant Chorderize at Quay Arts and Ventnor Exchange), as well as being involved in an art collective and performing at Ventnor Fringe Festival (you may have seen him sat inside a cage for a week).
John’s poetry was hard hitting and sometimes capable of making those hearing it feel uncomfortable. He created intensely thought-provoking pieces of work and encouraged others to push the boundaries.
Known around town for his dry wit, bright trousers, stripy socks and lime green shoes, if you weren’t acquainted personally with John, you would recognise him from the description.
Martin: Creating spaces for emerging performer
Fellow poet and events organiser, Tim Martin, summed things up beautifully,
“The arts community on the Isle of Wight has lost a great man.
John was Insightful, forward thinking and had a sense of humour as dry as a desert. We couldn’t have been more different in our artistic styles, or the tone of the events we ran, but I always admired how John hustled so hard.
“Many of us event promotors are weighed down by financial concerns. There’s always a drive to get as many folks into the venue as we can and to keep the ticket price low enough to appeal to anyone on the fence. A lot of the time, we have to weigh up how avant-garde and daring we can be with our programming without scaring off first-timers.
“John was adamant about making events free, or at the least ‘pay-what-you-can’. He worked hard to find spaces that could make the arts free for all, and if he couldn’t find them, he conjured them out of thin air. Concerts in living rooms. Gallery spaces in sports halls. Poetry slams in art galleries. The man did an incredible job of creating spaces for emerging performers in a way a lot of us struggled to conceptualise.
“In short, its hard to overstate the impact he had on shining a light on new voices, especially ones from the fringes. Thank you for everything John.”
Farewell John, it was good to have known you.
Our thoughts are with John’s wife, Megan, and children Kayt and Jack, and all his family and friends.
Image: © Richard Heaven