Kevin Arnold’s (NAP #100) multi-paneled canvases are refreshing and humorous.  Creating art that is all about the object and its very own objecticity, if you will, Arnold paints canvases as physical placeholders and stand-ins for the very objects he depicts.  Canvases become vinyl pillows, packing cardboard boxes, folding chairs and tables. 

But besides the visual artifice he creates on the surface plane, he moves far beyond by stacking and arranging the canvases so that they encroach physically into and onto three-dimensional space, much as the object itself would.  Canvases of vinyl pillowcases are stacked just as a pile of pillows might be; canvases of stacked folding chairs and a table are propped against adjoining walls, much as the actual objects would be in the corner of a storage room; and canvases of cardboard boxes are heaped in haphazard columns, topped by a canvas “EXIT” sign that even towers above the totems of boxes.

Arnold’s trompe l’oeil, or “trick of the eye,” toys with the mind and is immediately satisfying and intellectually quite smart. - Ellen Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor

Kevin Arnold | Stay, on multiple canvases, overall 82” x 86”

Ellen Caldwell: Your trompe l’oeil paintings are fabulous.  What inspired this series – or how did these paintings come about?

Kevin Arnold: I guess it goes back to my early training as a perceptual painter. The work I was doing as an undergrad was more centered on the figure and the inhabited space, recording this information to a certain degree or accuracy.  The mundane routines of everyday life was a continual theme; I was looking at a lot of Vuillard, Fairfield Porter, as well as figurative stuff from the 80’s like Eric Fischl. I had also discovered the German Leipzig School of painters shortly before entering grad school at RISD and was enthralled by their approach to traditional painting practices (trompe l’oeil) and combining those with more painterly abstraction. I began dissecting my own paintings to see what it was that I really wanted to paint. What did I want my paintings to say and do? This led me through a two-year process of emptying my work of information until all that was left of the previous work was the object.

Kevin Arnold | In the Meantime, 2006, oil on canvas, 54” x 62”

Kevin Arnold | Screen Door, 2006, oil on canvas, 60” x 45”

EC: That’s great and it reminds me of what you said in NAP #100, “the painting begins to function visually in the same way it functions physically.  It begins to act like the thing it is.”  I really appreciate those sentiments about identity and how your paintings take on the role of the subject painted upon them.  Could you discuss a bit further?

KA: The figures in my earlier work were always carrying out a kind of function, they were actors performing in some obscure narrative situation. There was a theatricality about the spaces—how the models were dressed and posed, controlled lighting—I was the playwright, composer and set designer.  When I began removing the figures from the spaces, the objects began to take on a greater significance of their own, they were now the performers alluding to hints and evidence of their users. I quickly became much more drawn to the objects within the physical space and less concerned with how the objects were performing in the pictorial space.

Kevin Arnold | Untitled Installation, oil on multiple canvases, 72” x 27”

Kevin Arnold | Vinyl Totems, on multiple canvases 85” x 84”

EC:  When I first saw “Untitled Installation” in NAP, I immediately thought of the back storage rooms in numerous galleries.  You really capture an essence in such an interesting way.  Do you always keep these kind of series of canvases together?

KA: Most of the objects that were serving as my subject matter at that time were from the graduate painting studios—folding tables, metal folding chairs from crit rooms, and cheap vinyl studio furniture that had been shared and passed down from former grad students. So it’s no coincidence that these paintings of disposable, reusable objects function so well together in any given space. But aside from the stacked boxes and vinyl cushions I wanted the paintings to be flexible, to be able to stand alone or paired with other paintings to create different conditions for the viewer to encounter the work.   

Kevin Arnold | Every 4-6 hrs, 2006, oil on canvas with collage, 27” x 44”

EC: What kind of work and subject are you focusing on now?  Are you building upon these ideas you have cultivated, or are you stepping in an entirely new direction?

KA: My work has always followed a somewhat logical direction. I’m still searching for some kind of middle ground between the viewer’s physical relationship to the functionality of the painting and the illusion of pictorial space.

Lately my work has begun to emphasize the specifics of materiality, by physically altering the objects in some way, recording this process on the canvas, and thus altering the objects meaning or its intended use.

Kevin Arnold | Lacuna, oil on multiple 9” x 9” canvases


Kevin Arnold graduated with his BFA from the University of Arkansas in 2006. He received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and a Collegiate Teaching certification from Brown University in 2010. He currently serves as adjunct faculty in the art department at the University of Arkansas.

Soon after Arnold’s recent feature in NAP, he was contacted by an acquisitions committee member with the Whitney Museum of Art, who purchased most of his featured work and will be exhibiting them at his own Galleria Imapakto in Lima Peru this November.  

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.


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