Natalie Arnoldi: Recent Paintings
These are dry days in Los Angeles, the kind that, laid end to end, lead further and further into drought. The distant promise of water hovers over us like the crest of a great wave.
Water, and its power, is something Natalie Arnoldi understands. She grew up next to the ocean in Southern California, and went on to study Marine Biology at Stanford University. Her depictions of sea life, as well as life on land, and in the sky, are the result of the alternate ebbing and flowing of an artist’s passion and a scientist’s objectivity. Though many of her seascapes and landscapes, such as Resevoir, which depicts a midnight lightning storm over the ocean, are miles wide in scope, they give the impression that every last drop, every microscopic organism, has been recognized and accounted for in the layers of oil paint.
Most recently, Arnoldi graduated from Stanford’s master’s program in Earth Systems, whose mission statement is “to understand, predict, and respond to human-caused environmental change.” In Recent Paintings, Arnoldi leaves her settings largely undisturbed, and instead uses her background as a conduit to depict scenes from the everyday world just as they are. They are reverential without being sentimental.
These canvases, some as many as 115 inches high and 105 inches wide, seemed quite at home in the cavernous rooms of the Ace Gallery, L.A.’s largest and oldest space for contemporary art. At the far end of one wing, opaque windows, from floor to ceiling, mute the commercial clutter of Wilshire Boulevard. A similar sheen settles over many of the subjects in this collection, in the form of mist and fog, so that no matter where the collection takes us, we never really leave the water. To the right of the windows, three paintings, Innkeeper, Redemption, and Enigma, display shark fins protruding from the gloomy deep, piercing the fog that rests just above the surface. In the softness of this setting, the fins seem less like harbingers of danger and more like the vulnerable Achilles heel of the ocean’s misunderstood villain.
Down the hall, 747s lift off the runway at LAX (Expectation) into the night sky, and linger there, half obscured by the same fog (San Francisco). Their gray oblong shapes and the sharp angles of their wings mirror their shark counterparts below. The faint glow of jellyfish (The Deep II) could be mistaken for lingering wisps of smoke left in the wake of fireworks like Dume, and Selfridge, the few bursts of warm color amidst a palette of black and gray. Schizoid, Lunatic, and Cost of Living each depict the same stretch of double yellow lines on a highway that go on to disappear behind a thick curtain of mist. This is the power of nature, to descend and sever us from the mundane world we thought we knew. It is Arnoldi’s gift to communicate this in such a simple way.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this collection is the series of abandoned gas stations. The glare of the SoCal sun might reveal busted windows and years of built up grime on these parched stucco shelters. However, the delicate spray that gathers around the ambient lamps in Disquiet and Long Haul make them look like bioluminescent creatures, lonely under leagues of night sky.
All of these scenes mark the end of some event: the moment after the plane has taken off, after the firework has bloomed, after the last cars have driven past without filling up. In the last and largest room of the gallery, though, Cyclops, Shipstern, and Wedge are literally at their peaks. They each loom nine feet high, their white-capped crests like crowns on their heads. They are ever suspended in the moment just before they come tumbling back down to the sand, subsuming everything in their paths in their rush toward the future. We can’t know how long we will wait for water to return to us, but for now at least, we can stand at the foot of these waves and be overtaken.
Natalie Arnoldi’s paintings were most recently on display at Ace Gallery on Wilshire Boulevard. More information can be found at www.nataliearnoldi.com