Natural Selection

September 9 - October 23, 2021


Two Hands


oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas
104 x 96 inches
CA 277


While visiting Machu Picchu in 2017, Charles Arnoldi was struck by the perfect fit of the rocks from which the ancient city walls were built. The architectural stability of the irregularly-shaped slabs of granite suggested a compositional approach to balancing blocks of color. When he returned to his studio in Southern California, Arnoldi set to work on a new series of paintings inspired by the Inca archaeology.

As is usually the case for Arnoldi, the series inspired several others, intermingling visions of masonry with visual inspiration from sources ranging from viruses to his own prior painting. “I guess I’m just an intuitive guy,” he says with characteristic candor and modesty.

An important and acclaimed California abstract painter and sculptor, Arnoldi has been channeling visual intuitions into transcendent large-scale artworks since the late 1960s, when he moved from the Midwest to Southern California and became the youngest member of the Venice Beach scene. Arnoldi’s extraordinarily versatile virtuosity is in full view in his 10th one-person exhibition at Modernism, which includes twenty paintings, sculptures, and works on paper competed over the past five years.

The exhibition highlights Arnoldi’s lyrical application of color, which enlivens organic abstractions comprising tangles of line, geometric tiling, and the irregular blocks inspired by Machu Picchu. The architectural blocks are also evoked in wooden sculptures hewn with a chainsaw, repurposing an unconventional studio technique that Arnoldi has applied intermittently to paintings on plywood since the early ‘80s.

The aesthetic variety is a natural outcome of Arnoldi’s commitment to process, and his eagerness to experiment, traits he holds in common with Venice Beach scene peers including Joe Goode and Billy Al Bengston. “I let the paintings develop themselves quickly and spontaneously,” he explains. “I'm not trying to make a signature style of art, not an Arnoldi. I am just trying to make paintings.”

However, all of Arnoldi’s compositions are unified by his conviction that each work must be autonomous. “In abstract painting, an artist invents a problem and solves it,” he says. Like the Inca architects of Machu Picchu, who found balance in asymmetry.

Arnoldi's work resides in numerous major public and private collections and museums internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain.