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 Robert Carston Arneson  (1930 - 1992)

About: Robert Carston Arneson


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Lived/Active: California      Known for: funk ceramic pop images

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BIOGRAPHY for Robert Arneson
1930 (Benicia, California)


Self portrait - self-portrait bust
© Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details

Often Known For
funk ceramic pop images

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California Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Benicia, California, Robert Arneson almost singlehandedly transformed ceramics into a major contemporary medium.  In the early 1960s, he became a member of the Funk Art movement, a California style of Pop-Art focusing on absurd images of everyday objects.  In the 1970s, he began using humorous portraits as subjects, and his memorial portrait of San Francisco's assassinated Mayor George Moscone was very controversial because it included references to the assassin.

As a young man, he was a high school art teacher, who was assigned the teaching of pottery making and, becoming intrigued by its possibilities, he stayed just a step ahead of his students.  Within a few years, he realized that clay was his medium, but he did not view it in the conventional way of making pots.  He wanted to explore the organic and functional qualities of the material itself, and in this approach, was influenced by Peter Voulkos.

He gave his pieces ironic titles and incorporated graffiti, giving him an opportunity to play whimsical games with the work.  In the 1970s, he began using humorous portraits as subject matter, sculpting his friends, heroes, and himself--all with ironic comments on the human condition.  His works also became increasingly larger, making them a combination of sculpture and ceramics, and with his introduction of colored glazes, he was part of a generation that integrated painting and sculpture.

For many years, Arneson taught at the University of California-Davis, where he influenced many young artists.  He died in 1992 from a long battle with cancer that had begun in 1975. This ill health darkened the tone of his clay works, and many of them took on issues such as nuclear war, assassins, and society's victims.

Thomas Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area
Docent Files, Phoenix Art Museum

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