Ohio-born, Los Angeles-based abstract painter, printmaker and sculptor, Charles Arnoldi, whose 50-year passion for the material world, a commitment to experimentation and a tireless focus on studio production – and whose work has been exhibited in galleries including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao – plumbs his own psychological depths only to discover what makes him love work and life.
What historical art figure would you like to have lunch with and why? Picasso or Brâncuși, because I think I could relate to either one of those guys very well. I see some connection in my work to theirs.
What did you purchase with the proceeds from your first sale? It was so long ago to be honest with you, I probably just paid my bills I wasn’t really buying things back in those days.
What words or phrases do you overuse? ‘I’m lucky’
How do you know when a work is finished? It’s when the object starts speaking to me. There is a dialogue I have with my work, and I must listen to what the work is saying. Often, I’m surprised by what comes back. As it progresses, the painting or sculpture begins to feed me information and define itself. It takes on a life of its own. That’s when I know it’s done. When the work has the power to communicate, separate from my intention, I know it’s ready to go out into the world.
When and where were you happiest? I’m pretty happy now. Wherever I am, I’m happy. You know?
What is your most treasured possession? My family. I realize that family is the one thing that is really real. Family is my most treasured possession.
Where is your ideal escape destination? My studio.
What’s the worst survival job you’ve ever had? When I was very, very young, I got a job working on new tract homes digging in the trenches for sprinkler units.
What TV series from your youth best describes your approach to life? The truth is that we didn’t really have a television, but I distinctly remember watching Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I wish I could hear better and that my sense of taste and smell we’re better. I’m getting older and I’m losing some facilities, so I just would like to be in better shape like my younger days.
What is your most treasured memory? The birth of my son, Ryland. And then later, my daughter Natalie.
What makes you smile? My English Bulldogs Peaches and Herb. They make laugh out loud all the time.
What makes you cry? Thinking about all the friends that I’ve lost. Even answering this question, I get teary-eyed thinking about it. I mean, there’s been so many and because of my age those are friendships are 50 years old.
What is your go-to drink when you toast to a sale? Rombauer Chardonnay.
After an all-nighter, what’s your breakfast of champions? Well, I go to bed at 9:00. But I eat Muesli for breakfast every day, no matter what.
Who inspires you? I think myself. I don’t have heroes out there, and I’ve been fortunate enough to know Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and John Chamberlain. And that was inspiring, that I had friendships with them.
What’s your best quality? That I’m a good person.
What’s your biggest flaw? Probably that sometimes I’m too good a person.
What is your current state of mind? Well to be honest, I’m lucky and pretty happy. I am extremely fortunate, and the older I get, the more I realize that. I feel very grateful.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My greatest achievement is being me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in a funny way I am the American dream.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? I would come back as myself! 2 for 1 you know, what the hell.
Charles Arnoldi’s exhibition, Deep Cuts is at Praz-Delavallade Los Angeles through April 1. Cover image: The artist in his studio, photo by Fahren Feingold; all photos courtesy of Charles Arnoldi Studio.