Wonders in wood

Charles Arnoldi, Impound, 1985, acrylic and sticks on plywood, 92 x 154 x 11 inches, Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation

The work of Malibu artist Charles Arnoldi at Pepperdine

By Kim Devore /

Staff Writer

The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University will be getting an eye-popping burst of color thanks to Malibu artist Charles Arnoldi. The museum will be hosting a first-ever retrospective of the artist’s work, entitled “Charles Arnoldi: Wood,” beginning Jan. 12.

While other artists paint with oils, pastel or watercolors, Arnoldi’s medium of choice is wood. He made his mark by crossing the boundaries between painting and sculpture with his imaginative stick compositions fashioned from branches.

“Using nature in such a creative and artistic way was totally original,” museum director Michael Zakian said. “It’s been said that he helped define art in L.A.”

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Arnoldi’s talent was noticed at an early age. He received a full scholarship to Art Center School in Los Angeles. Then, in 1968, he was recognized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Young Talent Award. Next came the Chouinard Art Institute, but when his tuition ran out, he needed to establish himself in the commercial world.

He dabbled in illustration, but still wanted to find an artistic voice that would set him apart. Inspiration came one day when he went out with a friend to collect some tree branches. Returning to his artist’s studio, he propped them up against the wall and realized that they resembled hand drawn lines that could be used to “build” a painting. From that point on, twigs became his signature.

In the 1980s, color began to play an increasingly important role in Arnoldi’s creations. He used vibrant pigments to make his pieces pop. He also started to experiment with metal and began painting on canvas.

His work featured squares, swirls and circular forms in brightly colored shades like tangerine, lemon yellow, lime green, sky blue and lavender. Arnoldi soon became a well-known name in the California art scene and many collectors now covet his work.

Arnoldi was also one of the first artists to set up shop in Venice. There he developed friendships with the likes of actor Dennis Hopper and then bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Easy Rider” star and California’s governor are both lending Arnoldi’s works from their personal collections to the


In addition to his works in wood, the Pepperdine exhibit will also feature his signature “Chainsaw Paintings.” Arnoldi carved thick sheets of plywood with a chainsaw into shapes that are described as both violent and poetic.

“His abstract designs are really amazing,” Zakian said. “He cuts and carves and paints and you get all these different layers. It’s really powerful and vibrant.”

The retrospective will feature 25 large-scale works from 1970-1990. A reception to meet the artist takes place Saturday, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway. The show runs through March 30.