Interview: Charles Arnoldi

September 30, 2015


One of the most protean figures in the contemporary Los Angeles art world, Charles Arnoldi is a painter, sculptor, and printmaker acclaimed for brightly colored compositions that straddle the margins of sculpture and painting; abstraction and representation. Both curiosity and experimentation are hallmarks of Arnoldi’s work–a theme that emerged in his groundbreaking “stick paintings” of the 1970s, made of found twigs and branches that Arnoldi shaped into constructions and affixed to panels.

Charles Arnoldi artist, standing in front of his artwork at LAMA

Charles Arnoldi standing in front of Untitled (1970) at LAMA

Widely exhibited in the United States, Arnoldi’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions spoke with Charles Arnoldi in August 2015 about his career and his artistic philosophy. Five lots by the artist will be offered in our October 11 Modern Art & Design Auction.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions: When you moved to California to study in the late sixties, the art world was in a state of flux. How did that affect you?

Lot 199 Charles Arnoldi Untitled 2005

Lot 199, Charles Arnoldi, Untitled, 2005
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Charles Arnoldi: At art school they told me that painting was dead. Everyone was talking about conceptual art and process art. I was just some dumb kid from Dayton, Ohio. To me, art was painting and sculpture. My goal was to make valid paintings.

LAMA: But then you did something unconventional with your compositions by using twigs.

Lot 197 Charles Arnoldi Untitled 1970

Lot 197, Charles Arnoldi, Untitled, 1970
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

CA: To my mind, that was painting. The tree branches look to me like drawn lines; they were like brushstrokes. I was appropriating lines from nature–and the structure of the lines gave the work integrity. Not everyone agreed with me. When I had my first solo show in New York in 1975, I got into a fight with Brice Marden at Max’s Kansas City [a 1960s and 1970s nightclub famous for its creative class patrons]. He said I shouldn’t call them paintings and that I was just ripping off Polynesian stick charts [traditional maps made by Micronesian islanders, using the ribs of coconut palm fronds, to represent patterns in ocean currents].

LAMA: Critics frequently write about the relationship of your work to “the California environment.” Would you be the same artist if you worked elsewhere?

Lot 198 Charles Arnoldi Hobby 2006

Lot 198, Charles Arnoldi, Hobby, 2006
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

CA: I don’t consider myself a “California artist. ” But there is a kind of attitude here, an open-mindedness–particularly about the use of non-traditional materials. When I got here, Billy Al Bengston was painting on dented metal. Ron Davis was using resin and fiberglass. Larry Bell was making sculpture using vapor films adhered to glass panels. That was exciting. I wouldn’t be the same artist if I had gone to New York. Californians don’t have that same obsession with their place in art history. And there’s not that competitiveness. I met Jasper Johns and Warhol and Bob Rauschenberg and went to their studios. I saw that they were just people, and that I could make art, too. I didn’t feel I had to outdo them.

LAMA: The pieces in the auction form a sort of selected mini survey of your work. You have quite a diverse body of work.

Lot 200 Charles Arnoldi Untitled (diptych) 1988

Lot 200, Charles Arnoldi, Untitled (diptych), 1988
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

CA: I’m always receptive to new ideas, and I pursue them to their logical ends. Plus, once I get good at something, it seems to me that it’s time to move on. I don’t do it for novelty’s sake. There’s always pressure to reinvent the wheel–but that’s just a silly pursuit. We human animals always think we’re scaling some new pinnacle, but in fact someone has been there before. Art is simply what I do with my time on earth. Hopefully the work is interesting and challenging, and each painting or sculpture represents a certain point in time in my life.

Lot 201 Charles Arnoldi Untitled 1997

Lot 201, Charles Arnoldi, Untitled, 1997
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot Information:

Lot 199
Charles Arnoldi
Oil on aluminum
Etched signature, date and inscribed “05.189” verso
13.25″ x 18″
Provenance: Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000

Lot 197
Charles Arnoldi
Acrylic on found wood sticks
Signed and dated in graphite “Arnoldi 1970″ verso
72.25″ x 72.25″ x 3”
Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000

Lot 198
Charles Arnoldi
Acrylic on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated in black felt-tip marker verso
Canvas: 28″ x 28″; Frame: 28.75″ x 28.75″
Together with copy of certificate of authenticity
Provenance: Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica, California;
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 2006)
Estimate: $8,000 – $12,000

Lot 200
Charles Arnoldi
Untitled (diptych)
Monotype on paper in two sheets
Signed, inscribed, and dated “Arnoldi 11/18/88 SB” upper center
Sheet (overall): 73″ x 64″; Frame: 81.25″ x 71.25″
Provenance: Garner Tullis Workshop, Santa Barbara, California;
Private Collection, United States (acquired directly from the above)
Estimate: $6,000 – $9,000

Lot 201
Charles Arnoldi
Graphite and acrylic on paper
Signed and dated in graphite lower right sheet; retains artist’s studio label verso
Composition: 10.75″ x 7.75″; Sheet: 12.25″ x 9″; Frame: 21.25″ x 17.25″
Estimate: $1,500 – $2,000

Leave a Reply