Book Review: CHARLES ARNOLDI

A new monograph on the noted LA Abstractionist traces his evolving artistic practice.

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LOS ANGELES
CHARLES ARNOLDI
A NEW MONOGRAPH ON THE NOTED L.A. ABSTRACTIONIST TRACES HIS EVOLVING ARTISTIC PROCESS

For over thirty-five years, nationally renowned Los Angeles-based artist Charles Arnoldi has been fascinated with shape, line, and color, continuously exploring and dissecting their relationship in his painting and sculptural works. During a recent visit with the artist, Arnoldi, who prefers Chuck, talked about these interests as he led us through his expansive studio, a tour that quickly became a physical manifestation of his career. The recent publication from Radius books titled, Charles Arnoldi, allows for the same type of journey. The first monograph on Arnoldi includes a foreward written by renowned architect Frank Gehry, introductory essay by art critic Dave Hickey, and 160 full-color photographs complemented with an engaging conversation between the artist and Greg Amenoff, Fred Hoffman, Charlotte Jackson, and Michael Zakian, director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University. Thematically organized around Arnoldi’s relentlessly evolving work, this roundtable discussion offers the reader insight into the artistic processes of the artist’s career.

In even his earliest experiments, Arnoldi worked with a variety of materials, such as Plexiglas, latex, rubber, string and bamboo. A seemingly innocuous afternoon scavenger hunt through a fire-scorched Malibu hillside inspired the artist to work with blackened Eucalyptus branches. The surprisingly high level of formal sophistication Arnoldi achieved through the manipulation of these natural elements led to continued explorations between the boundaries of drawing, painting and sculpture. As the pages turn, the simplicity of Arnoldi’s stick constructions evolve into dynamic interactions between assembled elements and solid painted surfaces culminating with layers of painted plywood, constructed by Arnoldi only to be torn apart with the swift retribution of his enthusiastic chainsaw. Described by Hickey as “brutal and magically elegant” these chainsaw “paintings” offer up the ultimate expressionist mark, with the irony of negative space in place of a brushstroke, as evidence of the artist’s hand. And this was only the beginning.

There is a cyclical nature to the evolution of Arnoldi’s work, as if they were puzzles solved only to lead to the next question. The artist moved from utilizing natural materials and gestured strokes to lyrical abstracted motifs borrowed directly from the environment. The work continued to grow, quite literally, leading Arnoldi to construct architectural-sized paintings. In looking to solve the riddle of “how to make a multi-story painting on canvas,” he found the answer in his own earlier works, fragmenting the picture plane by using multiple canvases of various sizes to form one masterful statement. The canvases interact not simply due to their juxtaposition, but through color, shape and line. Arnoldi uses this technique as he explores multiple textures and forms, from colossal ellipses, grids and then windows, where the canvases seem to envelop one another. In his most recent works, Arnoldi further breaks the traditional picture plane by combining angular canvases unified by fragmented arcs that coalesce with a gravitational pull.

Taken separately, it might be easy to get lost in the sheer volume and variety Arnoldi produces. A key figure in the conception of this text, Charlotte Jackson, of Charlotte Jackson Fine Arts, Santa Fe, describes the book as a long overdue project that presents “a cross-reference of the broad career of Charles Arnoldi in a manner that really allows the reader to fully understand how one body of works leads into the next.” In actuality, this survey came about at the impetus of Jackson who contacted Arnoldi with the idea of creating this volume. Through their interaction with two non-profit organizations, Radius books and ART Santa Fe Presents, the project was achieved. To aid in the fund-raising efforts for this and future projects, Arnoldi has created three different types of limited edition “box sets” that include a limited edition work of art along with the book, uniquely packaged in miniature crates, each referencing a different period of the artist’s work. The final result proves to be a success in its accessibility and presentation, a book that may by long overdue, but proves to be well worth the wait.

“Hard to Ride,” 2006, Acrylic on canvas, 663⁄4″ x 743⁄4″
Photo: courtesy of Modernism Inc., San Francisco

“Charles Arnoldi: WORKS 1990 – 2008” was recently on view at Modernism, Inc.,
San Francisco, from September 11 – November 1, 2008. The artist can also be seen in the following upcoming exhibitions: “Charles Arnoldi: New Works” at Greenfield Sacks Gallery, Santa Monica CA, October 11 – November 29; and “Fractured Arc Paintings” at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM, November 7 – 29.