The Malibu artist talks about his new series of work now on exhibit in Santa Monica.
By Robyn Flans / Special to The Malibu Times
For painter Charles Arnoldi, there is always a natural evolution to his work.
“One idea leads to another. I don’t just arbitrarily decide to do a particular type of painting,” the Malibu resident said.
His first exhibition at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery in Santa Monica opened Saturday and will run through Feb. 5, and features his new work from three current projects.
In the series “Arcs,” as well as with “Windows,” Arnoldi is “not only painting in customary abstraction, but is now abstracting the very structure of the works,” as described by the gallery. “In a characteristic tension between motif and its disruption, Arnoldi has begun painting individual panels and later assembling them so that edges may be unaligned or gaps between pieces occur, creating negative spaces and nonuniform shapes.” Also on display will be sculptural pieces from the new “Thorns” series.
“As I am doing things, I am trying to bring the image in my head to reality, and the reality takes on a life of its own and sort of challenges the image I have,” Arnoldi explained of his work process. “Once it becomes real, it has its own life. It never turns out perfect or the way it is in my head. But as I’m making it, I realize there are strengths and weaknesses and possibilities. For me, anything I’m trying to do has infinite possibilities, and I try to explore as many as I can.”
It is this attitude that is most likely responsible for the artist’s perseverance.After attending the Chouinard Art Institute for eight months in the late ’60s, Arnoldi was told that painting was dead and not a valid statement. He left the institute when he was reprimanded for winning an award from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, because he had not yet graduated. He then gained an early shot of confidence when Claes Oldenburg made mention of Arnoldi’s now famous Stick Art at Germany’s prestigious contemporary art exhibition, “documenta,” founded by arts educator and artist Arnold Bode.
“I was fortunate enough to meet Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Frank Stella and those guys when I was very young,” Arnoldi said, adding that he firmly believes that art-or any other discipline-is not solely within reach of an elite set. He believes the ability to achieve is within reach of any one person.
Which is the mind-set that has served Arnoldi from his art school days of renting cheap lofts and eating mac and cheese to creating more than 4,500 works of art. Today, one of his pieces might command $65,000 to $80,000, gallery owner Rosamund Felsen said.
While this is his first showing at the gallery, Arnoldi has known Felsen for more than 40 years.
“I stopped by her gallery one day to see another show and we got to talking,” Arnoldi said. “She’s known for having a good eye and integrity.”
Arnoldi has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, among others.
Still, if you ask Arnoldi the turning point to his success, he will tell you he does not believe he is successful.
“I’m an egomaniac,” he confessed. “I’m always looking up and not down. Sixty-five thousand is nothing in the art world. Do you know they sold a Jasper Johns painting for $107 million dollars and he’s still alive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but things could be a lot better. I’m never happy with the way things are. I work my ass off.
“I’m about two years behind myself as opposed to where my head is,” he said. “I’m always trying to get there. I’ve never been at a loss for things to do. My wife is an author, Katie Arnoldi, and she’ll work on a book anywhere from two to four years. I don’t understand that. I would go crazy. For a painter there is instant gratification.”
Yet, for Arnoldi, that instant satisfaction goes beyond singular achievement.
“For me, art isn’t individual paintings,” Arnoldi said. “We’re all on the planet for a limited time and it’s amazing what people can do in a lifetime. So, for me, it’s a body of work that’s important, not the individual pieces.”
The Rosamund Felsen Gallery is located at 2525 Michigan Ave., B4, Santa Monica, CA 90404