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Robert Arneson

(Benicia, California, 1930 - 1992, Benicia, California)

American

Encouraged to draw from a young age, Robert Arneson was drafting cartoons for the local newspaper by the time he was a teenager. Studies in art education at the California College of Arts and Crafts led to a teaching job at a local high school, where Arneson became interested in ceramics. He earned an MFA in 1958 from Mills College and by 1962 was head of the ceramics department at the University of California at Davis. Arneson advocated the notion that clay was not just a craft medium to be formed into functional vessels or abstract objects for aesthetic contemplation, but could express the profound content characteristic of the so-called fine arts. He was one of a small number of artists who translated Pop Art’s interest in popular culture into a more psychedelic California dialect termed “Funk Art.” William Wiley, also in the museum’s collection, was another “Funk” artist. By the early 1960s, Arneson had arrived at his distinctive style, which emphasizes irony, sexual and other crude humor, rough surfaces and gaudy color. His satirical self-portraits and depictions of famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock gained widespread recognition during the 1970s. After Arneson became ill with liver cancer in the early 1980s, his work became progressively somber. He experimented with a new medium—cast bronze—to address violence and militarism. In 1992, the artist lost his long battle with cancer.

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