October 9, 2016


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Lot 101: Charles Arnoldi

Lot 101: Charles Arnoldi

Billion 1

Acrylic on plywood
Signed and dated in black paint verso
63" x 174" x 6"
LAMA would like to thank the artist for his assistance in cataloguing this work
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Price Realized: $40,625
Inventory Id: 23100

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Throughout his forty-year career, legendary Los Angeles artist Charles Arnoldi (b. 1946) has been associated with the artistic scene of Venice Beach. Hailing originally from Dayton, Ohio, critic Dave Hickey aligns him with other Midwestern artist transplants, like Billy Al Bengston, Ed Ruscha, and Joe Goode, who have adopted California as their home base.

Arnoldi's distinctive compositions of pigmented wood traverse the boundaries between sculpture and painting and contain echoes both of architecture and the natural world. Meticulously crafted, Arnoldi's works impose a geometric order on irregular material to achieve a harmonious and symmetrical balance.

Arnoldi recently spoke with Peter Loughrey, Director of Modern Design & Fine Art at Los Angeles Modern Auctions to discuss his work:

Peter Loughrey: When I got (to Los Angeles) in the mid-1980s, I remember walking around galleries, looking at shows and being blown away by the boldness of the art here. I remember seeing your work and thinking how unapologetic it was. I think Billion 1 is such a perfect title.

Charles Arnoldi: Back in those days the word "billion" was not used all the time, like it is used today. I called it Billion 1, because it was going to go to a big corporation. Somebody came in my studio and we were talking about the piece and they said "that looks like a million bucks," so I just kind of upped it and said "billion." It was kind of a funny thing and a lot of the work I was doing here was pretty gutsy, because we all felt like we didn't owe anything to anybody else and we thought we could do anything. You know, use tree branches, chainsaws, resin, and you didn't have to get into the mold of what they were doing back east. The other thing was, I think we all were kind of macho and scale was something I've always embraced.

PL: How does the process differ from the tree branch paintings?

CA: The chainsaw paintings were after I made the tree branch paintings, which is a line I appropriate from nature. The image of the tree branch paintings makes sense, because every line on there is an integral part of the structure and it justifies what the drawing is. It was interesting because at the time the general consensus was that painting was dead. When I was making the chainsaw paintings I started to attack those paintings, to carve them away and drawing as I go. It was interesting because the holes became a big part of it. The holes left me with those chunks. The chunks were like beautiful objects that happened very spontaneously, so I kept collecting them. I could not possibly throw them away. Then I thought, why don't you put them back on top? So it's like a positive statement of the negative space I was drawing.

PL: I wanted to ask you more about the material of this series.

CA: I used to get sticks and cut down trees and save chunks of wood. I liked the striations; chainsaw cuts looked like some paintings I had in the studio, so that got me into wanting to cut with a chainsaw. So I cut a couple blocks of wood and they were not more than a foot or two in either direction. I immediately wanted to blow up the scale to painting scale. I wanted an 8' x 8', about a foot thick, so I counted how many sheets of plywood it would take to make this thing. So I order 24 or 30 sheets of plywood and 10 gallons of yellow glue and my assistant and I put sheets flat on the floor next to each other and rolled glue on it. Then we put two sheets in the opposite direction and we stacked this thing up. It was about 12" thick when we got done. Now, we had not thought it out very clearly and we realized that we had to put some weight on it. My assistant at the time had a motorcycle, so we put the motorcycle on it. We put everything we could find in the studio on this thing, so that the glue would squish out right. When we did that, the glue came oozing out of the side and, basically, we glued the thing to the floor in my studio. After about four or five days we couldn't get it up, so we called Stanley Grinstein and he sent a forklift to my studio. This is when Frank Gehry and I shared the building on Brooks Ave. Anyway, we had to get sledgehammers and wedges and we basically busted this thing loose from the floor. This thing weighed about 1,200 pounds and I realized I didn't think it out clearly. So I used that hunk for my carving table for a long time. That was just a platform. What I started doing instead was laying two or three sheets of three-quarter inch plywood together and then I put a thicker edge around the sides so it appeared to be 5" or 6" deep, but it was actually slightly hollow in the back. Anyway, I started gluing this plywood together and I loved the way it looked and Frank Gehry did too so I started making furniture out of it.

PL: How long did it take to make a work like this?

CA: Well, the standard answer to that is 40 years, but the truth is that the chainsaw painting itself goes really quickly. You just kind of go for it. It didn't take me more than an hour to cut the wood, but it's glued up, painted and cut and I made the chainsaw paintings for a couple of years, so I kept saving all the chunks. You make a piece over a period of a couple of days. In fact, I find that the faster and quicker you make decisions the more natural it is, so that you use intuition.