Chuck Arnoldi at Desert Center

Chuck Arnoldi, Rough Cuts at Desert Center, Los Angeles. Photo Courtesy of the gallery.

Chuck Arnoldi: Rough Cuts

Desert Center Los Angeles
Through December 2018


By Shana Nys Dambrot

Chuck Arnoldi operates from a core set of ideas, a cadre of formal and optical precepts centering around the nuances and expressive pressures between shape and color. In a sense, all of his best known series start from a premise of exploring the formal dynamics of these mutual influences. More so than say, personal emotion, diaristic narrative, or expounding gesture, it is a curiosity about what is lost and gained in the translation of an object into an abstract idea, and an idea into an abstract image, which characterizes much of his practice in painting and sculpture across the last several decades.

A selection of small paintings accompany the current presentation of new and recent works in paint on canvas or chopped wood at Desert Center Los Angeles, the better to express the continuum of Arnoldi’s consistent visual lexicon across the years. Fully realized even in small scale, but with the urgent energy of studies, these works speak to his particular affection for the organization of interlocking irregular rhomboids, the retinology of color stories, and the operational spatial dynamics of linear overlaps, separations, borders, and lips. These threads are made most fully, apparently, manifest in the two largest paintings on view, examples from Arnoldi’s “Machu Picchu” series of the past two years. Loosely derived from the architectural marvels of construction in which fieldstones become immortal pyramids, in these works Arnoldi does not seek literal depiction but instead was inspired by his experiences and observations in Peru to undertake a vigorous return to form in the studio; a return from the heights of mountain-top cities to the heights of his abstract organization thinking.

The prompt however for assembling these works is a suite of about a dozen exceptional painted wood wall-sculptures, which despite their chunky masses are paintings at heart. Very new, as in made in the past several months, these “Chainsaw Paintings” are incredibly vibrant, fairly pulsing with a saturated energy of light and life that make them among the most interesting work he’s done. This time it was an adventure among the forests of the Yukon rather than the walls of Cusco, but Arnoldi’s modus operandi held, and the well-honed cycle of inspiration, derivation, refinement, and reconstitution once again proved its worth.

Where the curatorial wisdom of including paintings on canvas in conversation with those on wood is most salient, lies in corresponding passages of both shape and palette. The textures of the wood surfaces offer line-and-shadow patterns of both inherent grains and inflicted groove-marks which manifest as elements of drawing. But further, the impasto-like low-grade topography of splinters and pores creates its own level of optical experience and exercises its molecular will over the material depth of color as well. The side-by-side comparison to the paintings that accompany the chainsaw works highlights the fact that Arnoldi paints his canvases in a resonant way, deliberately leaving the ghosts of pentimenti and brushstroke even within pure color field. While these traces do not quite rise to an emotional pitch of expressivity, they honor and enshrine the hand and presence of the artist in an affecting and enduring way.

That subtlety is upended in the chainsaw paintings, where although the analogy between brushstroke and saw-blade cut is fairly direct, the amped up performative quality of the latter macho, marginally dangerous process makes itself felt at all times. One cannot help but imagine these pieces being made, deafening motor buzzing, wood chips flying, in a rapidly paced choreography of reflex and intuition that has everything to do with the movement of his hand and eye, and engagement of his body and its actions. It’s a fascinating thought experiment, prompted by the presence of fresh, enchanting, powerful objects made by an artist at the top of his game, and still climbing.

Desert Center Los Angeles
7466 Beverly Blvd., Suite 207


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