I think the great part about these paintings is that it wasn’t just the finished product. People who saw it said things like, “God, we’ve been waiting since Jackson Pollock for an artist who could engage the canvas in such a complete and convincing fashion.” — Fred Hoffman, curator and art historian
In the first months of 1982 Charles Arnoldi was working in his Venice studio making his Crosshatch paintings when he got on a call and began doodling on his wall-mounted telephone. “I stepped back for a minute and noticed the brushstrokes and realized that I could alter the shape of the phone,” says Arnoldi, who had been working at the time with a woodcutter in Santa Barbara to source specimens for his iconic Stick Paintings, which earned him a spot at Documenta V in 1972. “He was always showing me these chunks of wood that had been carved with a chainsaw and I realized these wood blocks were similar in size and shape to my telephone.”
With this doodling experiment fresh in his mind, Arnoldi made a trip to Santa Barbara to see these blocks and noticed the grooves from the chainsaw created marks that he could amplify and accentuate with brushstrokes of paint. In short order, the Ohio-born, Venice-based artist was cutting negative lines—drawing in negative space—by carving into and through his own blocks. Process-wise, Arnoldi’s approach was a direct descendant of action painting, only rather than standing over a canvas flicking paint like Jackson Pollock, he was orchestrating a “dangerous dance” in which he would utilize his own chainsaw in ways that were never intended by the manufacturer.
“It was very spontaneous but I had to be very physically, visually, and mentally involved with what I was doing because I would just cram the chainsaw into the wood and cut out chunks and sometimes the chainsaw would fling pieces of wood across the studio,” recalls Arnoldi, who would glue panels of plywood together and surgically carve the pictures into painted pieces of wood (or carve images into blocks he would later paint, or simply blowtorch and leave raw). “I was literally on top of the thing forcing my way through it—pushing, pulling—so there had to be a funny weird rhythm to what I was doing, and it would all happen very quickly so I had to make split- second decisions while doing it.”
Though he ripped through a few large scale works shown with Rosamund Felsen in 2011—what he jokingly refers to as a “senior citizens” attempt of
proving he still had the chops—Arnoldi hadn’t made any new chainsaw works for the better part of three decades until this past summer during a trip to the Yukon Territory to visit the art-industrial mining project of fellow Angeleno artist Henry Vincent. After Vincent suggested that Arnoldi might make a few works on his property—and cut down a towering white spruce— Arnoldi (with some help from two seasoned lumberjacks) went to work with a two-stroke Husqvarna, carving a series of interlocking block forms that weren’t looking backwards, but rather projecting forward, echoing the geological shapes he’s been exploring in the two years since he climbed Machu Picchu in the summer of 2016.
“It was my 35th wedding anniversary and we hiked from Cusco to Machu Picchu, going 12 to 14 miles a day. When you hike that much you are very limited on what you can carry, so it was maybe the first time in my life I didn’t bring art supplies with me on a trip. But that forced me to think about the structures of these ruins a lot,” says Arnoldi, who hiked through snow and hail for a week at 15,000 foot elevations. “You get used to the altitude, but at first you cannot breathe. You’re really experiencing the mountains, the weather, and the people who are living in this environment and you’re thinking, ‘How in the hell did they do this?’ It was a very strong culture and civilization. They must have been very determined and clever as hell to live in that environment.”
Prior to his Peruvian odyssey Arnoldi had been working on his String Theorypaintings—rhythmic exercises in abstraction that measure the arc of arm, wrist and shoulder used to make an infinite, curving line that never extends beyond the border of the canvas—but when he returned to Venice in July of 2016 he began making what are now known as his Machu Picchu paintings. Similar in approach to the Chainsaw works, the new paintings are a marriage of precision and spontaneity. They invoke memories of shapes, expressions of Incan engineering, gestures of monumentality, but they are not representational travelogues in the mode of Georgia O’Keeffe.
“I am not painting pictures of Machu Picchu, I just want to figure out how to make a valid painting,” says Arnoldi. “It relates to kids’ art. People love the art of children because it’s intuitive, honest and spontaneous. It comes from the heart.”
The full range of those heart rhythms are on display November 15- December 27 in Chuck Arnoldi | Rough Cuts at Desert Center. There, Arnoldi will exhibit an evolution of Machu Picchu paintings in relation to the recent Chainsaw works, which explore the same unintuitive shapes in three- dimensional space, as well as some archival editions and experimentations with the forms in glass, bronze and steel. The works will be shown in an installation environment whose materials not only reference the artist’s Venice studio but the foundation of the Chainsaw paintings themselves. As Arnoldi says, “It’s about the spontaneity of the shapes filling up the space.”
Chuck Arnoldi and Billy Al Bengston at the ROUGH CUTS opening
If the bible is true, then I’m Christ. — David Koresh, former leader of the Branch Davidian sect at the Mount Carmel Center outside Waco, Texas
I am God's vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live. — Kanye West
Reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. — George Orwell, 1984
What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening. — Donald J. Trump, President of the United States
What is truth? That’s a tricky question, especially in 2018. If you believe Orwell, “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” This summer, Trump consigliere du jour Rudy Giuliani doubled down on that statement by boldly claiming, “Truth isn’t truth.” And if we’re talking about the “habit-forming drug” that is art-making, Marcel Duchamp insisted that “art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth.”
Still, everyone seems to be looking for their own version of this slippery state of being, this T-word. The quest for meaning is nothing new, of course. Over the past half century alone guru worship has grown from a cottage industry to a bustling economy because all want something—someone—to believe in. In the process we make false prophets out of pop stars and politicians, dating apps and digital devices. How else do we explain the deification—the cultification—of Catholic priests, televangelists, entertainers, athletes, financial advisors, healers, gurus, influencers, the Obamas, Trumps, Jenners, Kardashians, and, well, ourselves? Perhaps because we live in an era of unfathomable artifice—one in which the latest craze in self-beautification is plastic surgery meant to mimic Snapchat filters—we are willing to believe anyone selling Hope and Change; pushing us to Move Fast, Break Things; promising to Make America Great Again. And if those soft sells aren’t appealing we can always comfort ourselves with our devotions to that most- pleasing of gurus—the algorithmic, social-mediated self. Projected from pocketable devices that can invoke Eve’s apple or Dorian’s mirror—or both
—in a single swipe, we, to paraphrase Barack Obama, become “the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” If you just follow our feeds—and like our posts—we will take you on this elegantly styled, and tastefully captioned, journey into enlightenment one selfie at a time.
The works from the 15 artists in #followme, the second group show at Desert Center | Los Angeles, examine the historical and contemporary allure— especially in times of existential crisis—of the poetic vague leader who promises everything and leaves followers with little more than an emotional- spiritual hangover that punishes the mind, wallet, and perhaps even the body.
At Desert Center, a series of cement sculptures by Steve Hash invoke the psycho-trauma of being raised in a radicalized pentecostal religious group in southern Mississippi’s De Soto National Forest while neon and bronze works by Anthony James illuminate the powers of the impending aquarian age and kundalini yoga, the Trojan Horse of gurus looking to extract sex, money, and reverence from would be marks. Elsewhere, Timothy Uriah Steele’s layered landscape, Chrysanthemum Blues, offers a magico-religious narrative of trauma, paranoia, and ultimately, transcendence. And Zoe Hawk, Paul Verdell, and Till Gerhard each present a series of paintings that examine, respectively, the perils of groupthink, the hypocrisy of influencers influencing influencers, and the spectrum of gurus—typically old, white, and male—that lead such endeavors. Meanwhile, Una Szeemann’s film Montewood Hollyverità explores an absurdist mashup of those polar utopias of self-help culture—Hollywood and Monte Verità—as Scott Benzel’s “Heaven’s Gate SB Dunks” and Kim Pterodactyl’s “Home Shopping Hands” embroidery tableau tease out the commercial appropriation of cult wardrobe (and/or wardrobes purchased from commercial cults). These are complimented by soulful meditations on the leaders, followers, and victims (intended and unintended) of this phenomenon by Salomón Huerta, Kelly Lamb, Robert Lazzarini, Justin Lowe & Jonah Freeman, and Ariana Papademetropoulos.
In a moment when the fearless, if feckless, leader is everywhere in the zeitgeist—from the recent execution of Shoko Asahara, the terrorist figurehead of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, to the 40th anniversary of Jonestown to the Netflix-ification of Osho and the elevation of tin-pot dictatorship from the Twitter fusillade that is @realDonaldTrump— it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to cure our addiction to so-called soothsayers, to unfollow the initiated. The objective of #followme, rather, is to create a multimedia echo chamber that amplifies this social distortion—one that explores belonging, ritual, identity, and mass identity crisis—and through that amplification offer some reverb, a bit of feedback. As Timothy Uriah Steele observes, “It gets super weird the deeper you look.”
ARTISTS Scott Benzel, Till Gerhard, Steve Hash, Zoe Hawk, Nir Hod, Salomón Huerta, Anthony James, Kelly Lamb, Robert Lazzarini, Justin Lowe &Jonah Freeman, Ariana Papademetropoulos, Timothy Uriah Steele, Una Szeemann, Paul Verdell.
Sculptures by Steve Hash, all photos by AUTRE mag
Neon by Anthony James, Painting by Robert Lazzarini
JEREMY SHOCKLEY - HOMEWARD BOUND
As improbable as it might sound, Jeremy Shockley was raised in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, a stopover hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which offered shelter to caravans before they headed off into the high peaks of Appalachia. But growing up the son of a first grade teacher and a service manager of a car dealership in Greenville County is not the improbable part of this origin story. That enters the frame when you learn that Shockley’s art practice has been defined—especially in recent years as a result of a traveling gallery job—by his ability to adapt his work to a “travel studio” that invokes a painterly lineage from Henri Matisse to Henry Taylor.
For his solo debut at Desert Center, “Jeremy Shockley | Homeward Bound”, the artist is transporting a suite of recent paintings—many finished, but others as works in progress—and functional elements from his travel and home studios to create a liminal space where he will work (in pockets) throughout the duration of the exhibition. The intention of this hybrid studio is to push the artist beyond the limits of his small airtight pallet and linen study panels—which he’s brought to Basel, Switzerland, Seattle, Tulum, and the Sequoia National Forest this year alone —and the comfort of his home space into a new mode of creation. Not surprisingly, Shockley was up for the challenge.
“I don’t keep a sketchbook around much anymore,” he says. “Because I like paint for mark-making more than any drawing medium.”
Those marks, which serve as immediate acrylic templates for more complex oil narratives that he builds in his home studio, all seem to take cues from Shockley’s early psychology studies at Winthrop University, where he also studied painting and photography. What began with surrealist self-portraits—think a semi-nude rendering of the artist with sock puppets (representing his Id and Superego) hanging from his ears and conversing with one another—has morphed into a considerably more complicated tableaux that riffs on a wide range of source materials from Nordic and Greek mythology and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International to the life studies of his hero Albert York and the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez.
“What I like about writers like García Márquez is that they just wrote a magical element into a narrative without any fanfare, so it just exists in their world naturally,” explains Shockley, whose “Myth Paintings” are known for their blasé inclusions of landscape-skirting rainbows, clouds sprouting hairy legs or a toothy smile, potentially living pre-Hispanic statuary, or black geometric voids that appear to be swallowing and/or spewing these scenes from somewhere beyond. His “Curtain Paintings” actually synthesize all of these elements into landscapes contained within self-parting curtains. It’s magic as a Choose-Your-Own- Adventure novel; myth as Wheel of Fortune.
“The whole point of the rainbow is that it follows the shape of the earth and interacts with the myth; putting feet on a cloud makes it become part of a narrative;
and the curtains just move on their own volition,” explains Shockley. “These elements just exist because they exist.”
This auto-anthropomorphism is amplified by Shockley’s well-considered painting treatment. Relatively thin oils become thicker in places that depart from reality—at least what earthlings might perceive as reality. Rainbows grow off the canvas while Mexican beach sand recedes into it. In Shockley’s universe, paint—especially paint as a portal into other psychological dimensions—becomes a tactile, living thing. Canvases are a skin: storytelling incarnate.
Throughout the run of “Homeward Bound” some works may leave the space, others may enter; some will be finished, others will stay unresolved. Part studio, part gallery, part retail location, part salon, the show becomes a place for reframing the world—at least the world inside Shockley’s vexing visual vortex—as it relates to painting; as painting relates to travel; as travel relates to the concept of home; and how all art-making is (or is not) an attempt to reclaim that concept which is forever beyond our reach, if not our grasp.
Peering out Desert Center’s wall of second floor, storefront-style windows overlooking the neighboring tree canopy of LA’s Miracle Mile neighborhood, Shockley will surely attempt to exceed his grasp. “Painting outside makes you remember how actual natural light and color looks,” he explains. “Which is really important when you’re trying to create landscapes, especially those that involve the scenarios in my paintings.”
What is Greater Los Angeles? Is it simply, as Wikipedia would lead us to believe, "the more-or-less continuously urbanized area stretching from Ventura County to the southern border of Orange County and from the Pacific Ocean to the Coachella Valley in the Inland Empire"? An amorphous agglomeration of density and desert? A megacity of 20 million speaking 224 languages across beach towns and heat islands, lush canyons and dusty valleys? Are the parts bigger than the whole? How do Angelenos—or Arizonans, or Marylanders, or New Yorkers—make sense of it all: from an aerial view, beach towel perch, a simply sidewalk glance along one of the many boulevards of sin? What if we only saw it through art? What stories would we hear? What truths—or lies—would we discover?
The reality is that there is no complete picture, and perhaps no incomplete picture. Greater LA is a collage, a pastiche, graffiti written over billboards tagged over graffiti. It's a feeling captured in a shattered glass painting by Zane Lewis, one that captures the radiance of the Pacific Ocean meeting the salt air. And it's a wall of hand-carved tiles by Lauren Halsey that invoke Egyptian pyramids as much as they evoke the quotidian struggle of black lives in South Central. It's a surrealist 1968 photograph of Venice Beach, shot with a panning widelux camera, which Larry Bell wired to a helmet that triggered a snapshot every time he emitted alpha waves. And it's a triangular double-beveled, prismatic mirror that Kelly Lamb made after hearing about a friend who meditated into a similarly-shaped reflector every morning he lived in the Source Family house. It's a grainy video of Rachel Mason free climbing the old Dickson Art Center at UCLA (when she was still a student, not a teacher there). And it's a Super 8 film by Alex Becerra capturing the iconic buildings of Inglewood that will soon face extinction in the face of "progress" (i.e. gentrification).
They do not offer a complete picture, but a snapshot, a rorschach of identity—artistic, geographic, ethnic, romantic, tragic, and platonic—and by gathering enough snapshots perhaps we can start to form an album that hopefully helps us answer these questions: What is Greater LA? What is Greater Than LA? And are they both—the parts and the whole—one and the same?
Natalie Arnoldi, Alex Becerra, Larry Bell, Awol Erizku, Gajin Fujita, Genevieve Gaignard, Lauren Halsey, Seffa Klein, John Knuth, Kelly Lamb, Jake Longstreth, Rachel Mason, Ben Wolf Noam, Steven Perilloux, David Quadrini, Jennifer Rochlin, Ry Rocklen, Matthew Rolston, Grant Shumate, Henry Vincent, Han Weigand, Andy Woll, Robert Yarber, and other surprises...