Los Angeles

Charles Arnoldi

Fred Hoffman Gallery

When Charles Arnoldi began exhibiting in the early ’70s, his work offered a delicately organic alternative to the high-gloss formalism that dominated current Los Angeles painting. While everyone was flexing their heads about flatness, surface, and edge, Arnoldi was making paintings out of tree branches. Debarking the branches, gluing them into rectangular formations, and painting them with various colors, Arnoldi coasted for over a decade, but, as so often happens with art-world innovations successful enough to become trademarks, Arnoldi wore the gesture out.

While adopting the conventions of generic abstraction, his paintings all employed either real sticks or painted marks that mimicked their scrambled hatchings, as if to perpetually remind viewers of his original invention. Fueled by a microthought about the real versus the representation, the “Volcano Log Jam” works of the late ’70s juxtaposed actual sticks on one-half of a diptych, with stiff decorative renderings on the other.

In the ’80s, Arnoldi turned to the chain saw, hacking up laminated plywood surfaces in a crude, overbearing attempt to up the ante on his by-now signature Jasper Johns–like crosshatches. He painted these works in the same manner as before. Concurrently, he incorporated areas of thick modeling paste impressed with his signature repetitive stick patterns, but the resulting effect was too reminiscent of the work of Los Angeles painter Patrick Hogan, and the pieces ultimately remained optically banal and conceptually simplistic.

Arnoldi’s current batch of large-scale works—a few oil paintings on canvas, several bronze sculptures, and a couple of cast-aluminum wall reliefs—seems to look back over a career that’s temperamentally gone from femme to butch and back again. Here Arnoldi reinvents himself with an outburst of energy, in a variety of media, but instead of coming off as diverse and brave, the work reveals the artist’s insecurity where his own predictability is concerned. Brainstorm, 1990, is a muted white painting with thick red and blue loops that snake in and out of a yellow wash. Thick Skin, 1991, is a similarly sized work with black loops from the same thick brush that course emphatically across a gray and white Ed Moses–like grid. Both exhibit a stock sensuality posing for genuine lusciousness. The former has a dazed, delicate quality and seems bleached out by the sun; the other, with its bold black areas and smears of white and gray, reads like a New York–school wannabe—a kind of Franz Kline meets Terry Winters.

The aluminum paintings, which inhabit the space between painting and sculpture, feature grisly gouged-out markings that snuggle up to loose, floppy flower shapes. The rough facture of the carved Styrofoam mold Arnoldi used to cast the metal removes some of the artist’s hand from the picture, allowing a jagged, slightly imprecise image to emerge. In the end, the effect is just another generic breeze of line and form, a mixture of the cruel and the dainty—a little of Hans Hoffman’s push-pull, a little of everybody’s edge play. The aluminum pieces look massive on the wall, but they are ultimately hollow in more ways than one.

The bronzes read like museum classics. Arnoldi either goes for the large pure shape (the oval à la David Smith) or for something more vertically elongated (Alberto Giacometti) or for the small, vaguely representational form (Bryan Hunt). As if answering the question, “Where is the artist’s touch in all this?” Arnoldi has provided genuine paw marks on each handmade item.

Benjamin Weissman