Complications | Strawberry Creek Harp
San Francisco, CA: Catharine Clark Gallery opens its 2020 program with a solo exhibition of new paintings titled Complications by Chester Arnold. Arnold’s recent works are a stark visual contrast to his acclaimed 2018 solo exhibition Borderline, which depicted renderings of the border wall between the United States and Mexico in various states of construction, defacement, and disrepair. By comparison, Complications offers a poignant meditation on “refuge” and the lengths we might undertake to escape our current political chaos. His narrative paintings depict tumultuous crossings to island sanctuaries, with rudimentary shelters perched on top of precarious slopes. Arnold notes that this “body of work reflects a mind’s natural and unrestrained adventures with friction and gravity at its core,” where even seemingly bucolic landscapes bear psychological weight. Ascent of Man (2019), for example, depicts a hiker scaling a cliff, while fields below him are consumed by smoke and fire. In other paintings, prisons and structures of detention appear in the landscapes throughout Arnold’s island scenes, suggesting that utopias can also be quietly sinister.
But while Arnold’s work often explores the unsettling side of the bucolic, his formally arresting paintings also invite us into remarkable worlds that are at both dreamlike and startlingly realized. As Arnold remarks, “the world of the imagination, as a stage which reflects a life’s lived experiences, has never felt so crowded at every direction with urgency. My paintings, in kind, process these endless images that morph and distill themselves into painted forms.” Coinciding with the artist’s exhibition, the gallery is pleased to announce that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is acquiring a major painting by Arnold, Beyond This (2018), for its permanent collection. Arnold’s exhibition is complemented by a Media Room presentation of Kal Spelletich’s installation sculpture, Strawberry Creek Harp (2019), which was commissioned for the artist’s 2019 mid-career survey exhibition at St. Mary’s College Museum of Art, Kal Spelletich: Significance Machines and Purposeful Robots. The sculpture responds to William Keith’s painting Strawberry Creek (ca. 1890s), which is held in the museum’s collection and on loan to Catharine Clark Gallery during Spelletich’s presentation at the gallery. Spelletich explains, “I create experiences that explore the human desire for transcendence because ultimately humanity will prevail over technology.” In conceptualizing the piece, Spelletich visited Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek and positioned an electronic harp made from repurposed materials in the creek bed. The harp tracked the water’s motion via a detached robotic device. The electrical harp generated notes that responded to the creek’s variable speed and velocity, inviting a deeper conversation about relationships between nature and transcendence, ideas that are central to American art history and humanism.