Natalie Arnoldi: “Below Sea Level”

at Ace Gallery

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“Deep Scattering Layer,” 2016, Natalie Arnoldi, Oil on canvas, 88″ x 75″
Photo: courtesy Ace Gallery

The combined impact of Natalie Arnoldi’s recent paintings of sharks, jellyfish and waves, is almost immersive-a term that seems apropos when referencing works that portray an underwater world. Standing in the center of the gallery surrounded by these paintings-many of which are large-scale-the viewer is offered a stunning simulacrum of the extraordinary encounter divers experience venturing below the ocean’s surface. Arnoldi invites us for a glimpse into her conceptualization of a realm in which she is an expert. A graduate of Stanford University, the artist has both a Master’s in ocean science and a Bachelor’s in marine biology. Her ensuing artistic vision is the synergistic product of art and scientific insight. Using oil on canvas, her renderings of the marine environment are calculated so the creatures appear to emerge from backgrounds that convincingly capture the essence of their liquid habitat, at a depth in the ocean where the ambient light is diminished and diffused. Eschewing the use of commercially formulated black paint, Arnoldi creates her own nuanced background color with a mixture of pigments to produce a mysterious bluish-gray black.

The jellyfish paintings have little directional frame of reference-unlike the paintings of waves, which refer to the surface of the ocean. Strangely, the jellyfish could almost be construed as constellations in a night sky-otherworldly, which the ocean is-comprised of composite stars glittering in space, rather than invertebrates propelling themselves in water. In her dramatic paintings of great white sharks, Arnoldi capitalizes on her work studying the biological features, habits and migration patterns of these imposing creatures off the coast of Monterey. In Enigma (2016), the shape of a shark fin materializes from a misty gray sea. Gigi (2016) is a vast portrait, 24-feet wide, documenting one of the sharks Arnoldi has studied. In the fall of 2015, the LA-based artist returned to Northern California to work with a team of scientists placing satellite tags on great white sharks. Sighting them from the boat, Arnoldi learned to recognize Gigi and other individual sharks by their dorsal fins, which are as unique in each great white as a thumbprint. Although we would not want to encounter one of them underwater, the artist’s compelling portrayal of these creatures succeeds in expressing their singular magnificence rather than reiterating a one-dimensional perception of them as formidable predators.