California Artist Rick Arnitz’ current tool of choice is a paint roller. He calls this instrument “a mechanical mediator between the hand and the canvas,” which is expressive, but has limitations. Arnitz labels his creations “semi-abstract art”—halfway to serious meaning. I ask the viewers to meet me there.” When presented with Arnitz’ work, the viewer is intrigued and drawn in by the apparent lack of content, then held by the transfixing textures and ubiquitous rhythms of variation. The titles challenge the viewer to connect what they observe to possible meanings.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Arnitz hitchhiked to California at nineteen, lived through the 1960’s in Los Angeles, served briefly in the army, and then resumed his education at Moneterey Peninsula College. In 1973, he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where he subsequently earned his B. A., M. A., and M. F. A. degees. Currently, Rick Arnitz is represented at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco, California. Arnitz’ work has been presented in group and solo exhibitions throughout California, in Texas, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon, and internationally in Copenhagen, Denmark. Rick Arnitz has been featured in numerous publications, including Artforum, Art International, the The San Francisco Chronicle, and ArtWeek magazine. Arnitz’ works can be found in numerous public collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Achenbach Foundation, the San Jose Museum of Art, the University Art Museum, Berkeley, the Monterey Museum of Art, The Bank of America Collections in San Francisco, Continental Securities in Vancouver, B.C., and the Principal Finance Group of Des Moines,
ArtForum, November 2002
by Maria Porges
Reviews: San Francisco
In the tradition of eye-dazzling abstraction, there is something both satisfying and slightly mysterious about Rick Amitz’s adroit manipulation of paint. In “Backdrops,” the artist’s most recent body of work, shimmying stripes or interwoven patterns of contrasting lines alternately pop forward and recede, lock in to a single plane, or jostle one another in an undefinable space. Although several canvases are essentially black-and-white, others feature brilliant, almost shocking reds, blues, or yellows. Color, however, isn’t really the key that reveals the meaning of these works. Instead, it is the means of their making. For fifteen years, Arnitz has painted almost exclusively with a roller. His choice of tools is neither a gimmick nor a strategy, but rather a means for expressing his heartfelt affection and admiration for Abstract Expressionism–while acknowledging the impossibility of such painting in the twenty-first century.
Since Arnitz is the master of his method, his paintings could become as celebrated for the way they are made as for the result. ‘What prevents that from happening is Arnitz’s gift for tempering his own virtuosic mark-making with an idiosyncratic deadpan humor. Something is slightly off-kilter about these canvases, expressed through ironic titles and unusual proportions. Bylines and Obit (both 2001), each about the size and shape of a closed newspaper, are covered with random allover patterns of black and white. Yet what text, regarding author or subject, is to be read in these cryptic lines? The title of Choir Girl, 2002–a three-by-three-foot square of oscillating, blondish hatch marks–might have been inspired by Arnitz’s memories of his childhood Catholicism. In Canon, 2001, densely packed rows of black and white bars have a pleasurably claustrophobic intensity. But is the painting’s name a reference to religious music or (recalling the artist’s radicalism in the ’60s) a joke about the impenetrable work of dead white men that is supposedly at the core of our culture?
If clues are to be taken from titles, the most obvious one is in Letters from the Earth, 2001-2002. Mark Twain’s book of the same name, written in the form of letters from Satan to the archangels, makes fun of most organized religions, though it reserves particular scorn for Christianity. In its own way, Arnitz’s painting resists order (and the geometry of any grand plan) by confounding the eye’s expectations. A peculiarly tall rectangle, Letters is dominated by juicy stripes of cadmium red running continuously from top to bottom. On closer examination, these scarlet lines break and stutter, slipping behind and then in front of a patchy field of pale gray. Bits of canary yellow added here and there in the bottom half of the canvas emphasize the improvisational nature of Arnitz’s technique, as do the stripes of red that lean slightly to the left as they fill the canvas. There is something enjoyable about the implication that one thing led to another, and not always in the way either artist or viewer might have expected.
Arnitz once said that he likes the way a roller “repeats mistakes.” Though such a remark suggests a lack of pretension, it also embodies a kind of stubborn pride. His patient mastery of the pedestrian roller’s so-called accidents has brought his work to a level of extraordinary refinement. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the titles refer to, if anything at all. Even in the most troubled times, there is a need for painting that is just painting, and for the pleasure and solace that beautiful things provide.
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