Chester Arnold’s Paintings

Arnold works on canvases from large to small to elaborate a theme.  In the show at the Catharine Clark Gallery from Nov. 2012 to Jan 2013, he presents a variety of paintings that revolve mainly around mining operations, small operations by a few people that could be from the 19th century.  They have a haunting quality.  Even with people in the images, something seems missing, some sense of purpose, goal, context. The absence of a horizon is a technical means to this end: we feel flattened against the earth–and the mines that penetrate it–without a way to get our bearings in a larger world.  Using a limited palette mostly of earth tones, Arnold constantly implies what’s not seen: agency, aspiration, human connection, companionship, society.   These men, none more so than the half visible bones of a man who apparently perished at one of these anonymous mine sites, have no one to turn to, no one to relate to, no one to come home to, and the shafts that penetrate from the canvas inward have a vertiginous quality, as if the painting harbored a lacuna within itself. The bottoms of the shafts are sheer blackness, nothingness, somewhere far below.  It is not entirely surprising that Kenneth Baker in the S.F. Chonicle should see one painting, “Small Time Operation,” as reminiscent of Courbet’s “L’origine du monde,” with its shockingly frank depiction of female genitalia. Not at all erotic but disturbing, haunting, pointing to a mystery that Courbet, like Arnold and his small band of miners seem bent on confronting, if not understanding.

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