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 Arny Karl  (1940 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: pastel romantic landscape

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Biography from Jeffrey Morseburg:
Arny Karl was one of a small number of painters who kept alive the long tradition of the romantic landscape. In an age when the shocking and the ugly are championed by critics and when the absolutely banal is considered collectible, Karl's pastel and oil landscapes are prized by those who appreciate the idealized landscape.

Karl is best known for his poetic transcriptions of the California and Southwestern landscape. He painted in the Sierra Nevada, along the California coast, in Arizona, and throughout the foothills of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. While Karl enjoyed painting under the bright sunlight conditions favored by impressionist painters, it was the stunning colors found at sunset or the quiet hours of the late afternoon and evening that clearly animated him.

Arny Karl's childhood in Italy inculcated an interest in the fine arts and a deep love of the natural world. He was born in the Dolomite Mountain town of Balzano in 1940. Karl's Austrian father was a minister and writer. It was his Italian mother, through her interest in design and the arts, who encouraged him in his own artistic development.

Throughout his youth, the Karl family moved frequently, first to the large industrial city of Milan, then to Rome and finally to Florence, where most of the artist's school years were spent. An indifferent student, Karl remembers being awed by the art of the Renaissance that surrounded him, but he was almost instinctively drawn to nature as a subject. Seeking new horizons, he immigrated to the United States in 1961. He settled in San Gabriel, east of Los Angeles, where his sister had moved. Initially, he earned his way by working at a variety of jobs, as many new immigrants do. Seeking a practical career that still involved painting, he took a course in commercial sign painting at Pasadena City College.

Because of the necessity of earning a living and a lack of confidence in his own developing art work, Karl sought a career in the outdoor advertising business. In those days of the 1960's, Los Angeles was the center of the outdoor advertising industry and large, colorful billboards towered over freeways and thoroughfares. Hired as a "helper" at Foster & Kleiser, Karl worked his way up the union ladder, until he was able to paint his own billboards. Frustrated by the lack of creativity inherent in commercial work, he dreamt of becoming a fine artist, but realized that he needed further training.

Fortuitously, Barney Sepulveda, one of the more senior men at Foster & Kleiser, introduced him to the iconoclastic painter and Early California master Theodore N. Lukits (1897-1992).

Lukits was a staunch traditionalist and through his work and teaching he helped preserve the ideals and methods of the late 19th-Century French ateliers and academies. Beginning the study of art before the age of ten, Lukits had been trained by a host of gifted painters including the tonalist Edmund H. Wuerpel (1866-1947), American Impressionist Karl A. Buehr (1866-1952), the great muralist Edwin H. Blashfield (1848-1936), and the Art Nouveau painter and Slavic muralist, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).

Lukits passed on the same artistically and intellectually rigorous instruction that his own teachers had learned from painters like Bouguereau, Gérome and Bonnat, in an unbroken line that stretched back hundreds of years.

When Karl visited Lukits’ Los Angeles studio, he saw the proof of Lukits’ knowledge in his pastel and oil landscapes, formal portraits, still-lifes and anatomical drawings. Karl found that the type of instruction that Lukits offered was perfectly suited to his goal of becoming a professional artist. The disciplined curriculum in Lukits’ atelier stood in vivid contrast to both the orientation of commercial art classes and to the more laissez-faire atmosphere common to “fine arts" programs at colleges and universities. After meeting Lukits, Karl knew he had found his artistic mentor.

In 1960, Karl began his artistic studies in earnest with the time-honored practice of "drawing from the antique.” This involved drawing from plaster casts of classical sculptural works. Through cast study the student learned to master the skill of drawing shapes accurately, the laws of perspective and how to gauge the effect of light on objects. By working in graphite and then in black and white oil paint, or grisaille, he learned how to delineate the subtle gradations of light or values prior to tackling the more complicated task of working in color. The years of cast study were the foundation of all that Karl would learn afterward, the foundation upon which his art would be constructed.

Karl found that Lukits’ methods of instruction were completely different from those of art schools in that advancement from one phase of study to another was not based on an arbitrary time period but instead on the mastery of a scale of artistic principles. After mastering the drawing and painting of plaster casts, he graduated to simple still-life set-ups, and then to gradually more complicated color problems that Lukits would set up in the studio. Eventually, Karl began the study of human anatomy, life drawing and composition.

While he worked under Lukits in the studio, Karl spent his weekends out-of-doors painting from nature. Inspired by the series of plein-air pastels that Lukits had painted in the 1920’s, he chose that medium for his own work on location. Pastel has the advantages of being lightweight and quick to set up, making it especially suited for hiking and painting in the field. Like Degas and the American Impressionists before him, Karl was drawn to the pastel medium’s almost palpable sense of motion and its union of drawing and painting.

Karl brought his plein-air pastels to Lukits to critique and gradually his efforts improved as he was able to apply the lessons that he learned in the classroom to his work out-of-doors. During vacations, Arny took extensive trips through the American West, painting as far north as the Canadian Rockies.

During the 1970’s, Karl began sketching with Peter Adams and Tim Solliday, fellow students of Theodore Lukits and today well-known plein-air painters. Karl’s tenure with Lukits stretched to ten intense years. During this time, he did commercial work during the day, studied with Lukits in the evening, and painted on location on the weekends. By the late 1970’s, he was confident enough in his abilities to pursue a fine arts career and he began selling his work through prominent traditional galleries in Los Angeles and La Jolla.

Unfortunately, because of the complications of diabetes, Karl died before his time in 2000. Through his sensitive and deeply felt paintings and pastels, Karl's gentle spirit lives on.


Copyright Jeffrey E. Morseburg 2004





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