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Charles Arnoldi: Fractured Arc Paintings

Art In Review [The New Mexican, Pasatiempo]
By Douglas Fairfield
Dec. 5-11, 2008

This review is two fold: it looks at an exhibition of work by Los Angeles artist Charles Arnoldi- on view at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art- and at a book on the artist newly published by Santa Fe based, Radius Books. What’s tough is knowing where to begin; both the exhibition and the monograph are worthy of first-place honors. However, looking at the real deal always takes precedence over flipping through images in a book (but that’s not to imply that the latter is any less satisfying).

Charles Arnoldi: Fractured Arc Paintings is like taking one chapter out of the book and hanging it on the wall. Begun in 2005, The Arc paintings are an ongoing series in which the artist pieces together multiple shaped canvases into rectangular compositions. But this feat of impeccable craftsmanship is secondary to the painting itself.

More than just the tailor-fitted constructs- the conjoined parts are revealed only upon close scrutiny- it’s the truncated (fractured) sweeping gestures within the paintings that lend Arnoldi’s work its striking character. Like segments of giant painted pinwheels reassembled in calculated juxtapositions, Arnoldi’s work is ultimately non-objective, and anything seen as recognizable is in the viewer’s imagination. Foremost, aspects of process, textural quality, and dynamics of movement come to mind. The work seems to be inspired by broken pottery shards- the simple design elements, limited color schemes, and the not quite seamless transitions from one shaped canvas to the next remind me of such.

Arnoldi’s application of paint is proficient but thin- the weave of the canvas shows through. It is also apparent that the artist uses masking tape to define his arcing edges; although he cannot be accused of being overly concerned about producing precise contours. Traces of bleed and drip save the work from being purely decorative. But what gives Arnoldi’s paintings their most emotional and tactile impact are the vertical and horizontal scrape marks that tend to ground the paintings in some ethereal framework that echoes the rectangular format of the overall composition. In a scumbling technique that results in scuff marks on the surface of the paintings, a window appears that adds a peculiar perspective to the work. In short, these marks were intentional and not gross negligence on the part of incompetent gallery grunts.

Stalker (2008) and Fight (2008)- situated in the front gallery- are prime examples of all that has been said. Stalker, painted in various degrees of black and cream color, is visually activated by the fractured arcs yet is symmetrical in layout and stabilized by the incidental framework within. Fight- painted in autumnal shades of butterscotch tending to raw umber- has the same elements of arrested motion imposed by symmetry and intermittent right-angled scuff marks.

The back gallery features two related paintings: N.S.E.W. (2008) and Double Diamond (2008). Jackson was smart not to install these in the front space, as they seem less rich, less inviting than their more aggressively titled brethren. Double Diamond is too fundamental in its use of straight-out-of-the-tube mars Black and Titanium White, while the garish chartreuse thrown in the mix for N.S.E.W has too loud a voice for my sensibilities. But the two gouaches in the show- seemingly studies for the paintings- are sweet little ditties that are bold in persona yet understated in their muted tonalities and smaller scale. In total, the show consists of only seven paintings, including the two gouaches- a sparse presentation by any means- but there is much to consider, and O commend Jackson for her conservative installation.

On the other hand, Charles Arnoldi the book- weighing every bit of 7 pounds- is loaded with work:138 pieces. But the beautifully produced publication- with images one to a page, along with a few detail shots and photos of Arnoldi at work in his studio- does not seem overdone. Monographs are usually jammed with reproductions paired with an overwrought text with far-reaching profundities that lead to the detriment of the work, not to mention the artist. But the design team of David Skolkin and Chickey got this pitch perfect.

Also commendable is the book’s readability. Avoiding the standard chronology- “Arnoldi was born in… went to school at… met so-and-so,” etc.- as well as a pedantic series of essays, the publishers instead incorporated a an ongoing dialogue among Arnoldi and four people who personally know him and his work, including gallery owner Charlotte Jackson. Taped during a roundtable discussion, the transcript serves nicely as the text. Unscripted, the group responded to the artist’s work through a progression of slide images that covered all phases of his career, beginning in the 1970’s. The conversation is lively, critical in thought, and well paced. Additionally, the introduction by David Hickey- former executive editor of Art In America and professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas- is well informed and enlightening; he talks about Arnoldi the person, his West Coast aesthetic, and his artistic accomplishments.

Becoming acquainted with Arnoldi’s work- and his sometimes bizarre methods- was interesting. From his sculptural Stick series to the chain-saw paintings to his potato phase and his ellipses, grids, arcs, and windows, I appreciated how the book effortlessly segues from one phase of Arnoldi’s development to another, giving each equal time.

Most people agree that a book is always better than the film it is based on. But in this case- given the book and the exhibition- it’s essentially a tossup. I stand by my preference to see actual work, but buy the book for an in-depth look at a prolific artist whose progress over nearly four decades has resulted in some incredible work. Also keep in mind that 7 pounds of beautifully bound images works great as a doorstop.