Over the years as my art practice has developed I have turned toward drawing as a foundational framework, specifically portraits. I began casually in 2010, and then with more zeal in 2018, and recently with regularity in a group setting. I work with charcoal on newsprint. I am also engaging with friends and family to sit for me while I draw them, so in addition to the drawing, for me there is also the added engagement with another person around art. I published an early series of paintings at the beginning of the pandemic that is for sale here or get a signed copy here.
I was struck Jan 20, 2021 by the death of Los Angeles Figurative Artist Van Arno. I met Van at Otis Art Institute in May 1983 where we were both attending school. There were a lot of super punky kids there but Van stood out among them. He was a bit more glam, a bit more androgynous, and way more skilled. His dedication to what he was doing was a good example to me back then. Exotic appearance aside, he was a very down to earth individual and very committed to his work. Smart, funny, kind, and generous with his time and attention. Before his death he taught at Gnomon School for Animation and was widely admired by his students.
Thanks to Facebook I got to see Van as he navigated fatherhood while passionately continuing his work after kidney surgery. He was dedicated to his particular style of painting, figurative, super human, narrative, political, sexual. So called Low-Brow art. For those of us raised on cartoons, that were a mix of super heroes, pornography and social justice, Van’s paintings present modern mythology in a genre we can relate to.
Van’s memorial via zoom was a sad first for me and someone there suggested a way to honor Van’s memory would be to spread this hashtag #belikevan as a reminder to get out there and do your work. So I’m committing to a few portraits each month and see where it takes me. Thinking of Van as I do it, taking him to drawing group with me, keeping him in my thoughts.
Van’s paintings contained a lot of female characters, and he used models often. As a figurative painter this aspect was key to his work. At his memorial many of those women were in attendance and across the board remarked that the work they did with Van was by far the most empowering to them personally as women. He didn’t objectify them by painting them, he super-personified them, with skill and humor. There are terrible cliches about the artist model relationship but it seems that Van was able to navigate that with decency as well.
Although his life was cut short by kidney disease he made a big impact on people far and wide and by all accounts lived his calling as an artist. I’m so glad I met him when he was here on earth.
“I attempt to paint the Archetypical Moment of clarity and passion. But, above all else, imagery must be made exciting and alive. The rules of lighting, anatomy, gravity and physics must be bent or broken to make the picture LOUD. That is the ultimate goal of my work.”Van Arno
Here is a link to not one but two obits of Otis students. I attend drawing group here.