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September 13 - November 9, 2007 at Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica

by Nancy Kay Turner

Charles Arnoldi, a quintessential Los Angeles artist (painter, sculptor and printmaker), exhibits large-scale, lusciously painted abstractions which marry the Minimalist grid, Abstract-Expressionist gesture, and color field expansiveness. The newest series, begun in 2005, takes the arc as its central image--a slightly bent, thickened line which repeats as it dances its way through the paintings’ uneven grid.

In this series, Arnoldi uses an unusual technique that he developed several years ago, when he was faced with the challenge of creating a 28-foot painting and realized how impractical it would be to stretch a canvas that large. He decided to execute the painting in sections with specially constructed stretcher bars (which also served as an easel) for the unprimed canvas covered panels. The composition was precisely worked out, and the stretchers bars were custom made for each image. This enabled Arnoldi to paint each section separately, before joining the painting permanently together. This exacting and innovative method provides a great deal of freedom and spontaneity within a paradoxically fixed system.

Throughout his career, Arnoldi has fused painting and sculpture, merging the sculptor’s love of material with the painter’s desire for color and illusion. His early stick “paintings” were actually painted sticks tied together to form an uneven grid that physically enclosed space, rather than merely describing it. The negative space became the actual object of the painted sculpture.

In his later chainsaw paintings, Arnoldi used the motorized tool to cut into and through heavy wood panels (and by subtraction create negative shapes), wielding the device like an abstract-expressionist with a loaded paintbrush--with raw power and elegance.

In the current work, which is a summation of the series that went before it, this ardent colorist focuses on chroma, saturation, value and repetition. These large scale “Arc” paintings suggest lush tropical environments and kitschy Hawaiian shirts, with their superheated color palette and vaguely botanical references. In the wittily titled  “Twinkle Toes," Arnoldi manipulates the complementary colors blue and orange, shifting ever so slightly from an intense to a darker blue, and from a yellow-orange to a red-orange field. The arcs (which look like quotation marks or truncated “O’s”) are painted in white and blue. Arnoldi uses a squeegee to create illusionistic vertical and horizontal marks, which suggest edges where there are none.  “Twinkle Toes” is reminiscent of Matisse’s cut outs, with a surprisingly sensuous, variegated surface. Arnoldi’s equivocating color vibrates and creates the classic Hans Hofmann ”push-pull” effect, with a painted halo around each arc.

“Stinky Bone,” 2007, acrylic
on canvas, 78 x 69”.

“Buffalo,” 2007, acrylic
on canvas, 60 x 60”.

“Slingshot,” 2007, acrylic
on canvas, 72 x 72”.

“Side Car,” 2007, acrylic
on canvas, 78 x 69”.

”Stinky Bones” is composed of seven irregular rectangular canvases of different dimensions. The color here is muted, nearly monochromatic, with a restrained palette of black, white, grays and a light yellow. The arc becomes a design motif that when repeated in a grid (even a loose one), continually creating new negative shapes and fresh figure ground relationships.  Arnoldi’s riff on similarity and difference is as instructive as it is visually entertaining. He masterfully fosters a sense of controlled frenzy. Even though there is a simplification of image and color, the disjunctions and interruptions of the edges give the piece its jumpy, jazzy contemporary feel.

Although the “Arc” paintings have hints of Op art (the effect of complementary colors and simultaneous contrast), Abstract-Expressionist gesture/surface manipulation, the modernist grid of Mondrian and the geometry of  Minimalism, Arnoldi has, through synthesis and fusion, crafted a unique body of work. This veteran continues to paint enthusiastically with vigor, elegance and refinement. This dynamic and ambitious body of work showcases a distinguished painter still at the height of his skills.