Although Davis is reputable for its small town ambiance, the spirit and inspiration of its residents have greatly impacted the overall attitude and conventions of thinking in the art world. Robert Arneson was one of these individuals.
From Jan. 8 to Feb. 5, the Davis Arts Center will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a tribute exhibit for the late Arneson at the Tsao Gallery. A Seed Planted: A Tribute to Robert Arneson will feature Arneson’s original pieces from the Davis Art Center and the Nelson Gallery’s permanent collections.
“In this exhibit, we are exploring how the seed of inspiration grows and spreads,” said Katie Bolich, vice president of the Davis Arts Center board and curator of the exhibit. “Anchored by the Arneson pieces from our permanent collection, we are showcasing the depth and breadth of Arneson’s influence in our community and beyond.”
Arneson, who taught ceramics in the UC Davis art department for three decades, was greatly known for his satirical style and ceramic funk art – a ’60s movement that utilized everyday objects to make a statement. More importantly, Arneson was a great and influential colleague and mentor for many in the Davis art community.
“Arneson’s contribution to the art world is multifaceted – it is personal and unique to each individual,” Bolich said. “For some it was his irreverence and his use of irony and humor, for others it was his teaching style of pushing and challenging his student. And for others, it was about technique and contradicting the more formal traditions previously associated with ceramics.”
Tony Natsoulas, sculptor and contributor to the exhibit, studied under Arneson during his senior year in high school and while achieving his own Masters of Fine Arts. Natsoulas, who does humorous figurative ceramic sculptures and post funk art, was greatly influenced by Arneson as a mentor.
Along with over 30 other artists, of which more than half were Arneson’s former students, Natsoulas will feature his artwork juxtaposed with Arneson’s original artwork to capture the spirit and heart of Arneson’s contribution to the art world even decades later.
“Bob was very tough. He did not let you get away with any laziness,” Natsoulas said. “He always made us think about the importance of what we were doing. He was more interested in teaching us about getting a concept rather than teaching us how to build something or how to glaze something.”
But aside from being a mentor and art instructor, Arneson was influential as a member of the community, colleague and friend. David Hollowell, a painter, worked alongside Arneson upon joining the UC Davis art department in 1984.
“When he was retiring, he was talking to me as a friend, [and] said something that really stood out to me,” Hollowell said. “He said, ‘You know Dave, I’ve been making and selling my work. I have been making art for survival. But I’ve got a whole bunch of sketchbooks I’ve forgotten because of other conditions in my life. I’m going to retire, close the door and work on my work.'”
“Arneson was one of the more perceptive purveyors of the visual language that I’ve ever met,” Hollowell said. “His clarity to art was second to none.”
In addition to the tribute exhibit to Arneson, George Grant – Arneson’s studio assistant and close friends of many years-will be teaching a “Make a Brick or Bust” workshop open to all students. The workshop allows students to explore Arneson’s favorite forms, the brick and the bust. Grant’s workshop will take place on Jan. 9.
UYEN CAO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.