Ralph Arnold

Music Without Words, 1967, collage with transfer, 205.7 x 170.2 cm.

Columbia, 1968, oil and collage on canvas, 111.8 x 11.8 cm.

Blue Image With Pills, 1969, oil and collage on board, 91.4 x 88.9 cm.

Above This Earth Games Games, 1968, acrylic and collage on canvas, 114.3 x 114.3 cm.

How, 1967, watercolor and collage on paper, 64.8 x 50.8 cm.

Untitled, 1969, watercolor, gesso, graphite and transfer on paper, 55.9 x 76.2 cm.

Untitled (Anybody), 1966, collage on board, 35.6 x 31.8 cm.

About the Artist

American artist Ralph Arnold, who died in 2006, is best known for the masterful collages and assemblages that he started making in the early 1960s.

Born in Chicago in 1928 and raised by his aunt and uncle after his mother died in childbirth, Ralph Arnold spent much of his early life in search of an identity. After gradua­ting from high school, his early artistic training was at Uni­versity of Illinois, but this first attempt was abruptly interrupted.

From 1951 to 1953, Arnold served in the army in Korea, a life-changing experience that he documented in a moving photo-journal. When he returned to civilian life, in 1954, he continued his studies at University of Illinois, eventually earning his BFA from Roosevelt University in 1955 and by the end of the 1950s, Arnold produced his earli­est maure work. In the late 1960s he took up teaching and from 1972 to 2000, he was an influential and admired figure at Loyola University in Chicago.

Influenced by Paul Klee and Kurt Schwitters and keenly aware of the work of his contemporaries Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Arnold developed an oeuvre that moved freely between abstract and figurative art but was always thoroughly immersed in the complex visual languages of popular culture.

Arnold always claimed to be an artist first, and an African American second. Neverthe­less, some of Arnold’s work is explicitly concerned with the social and political aspects of African American culture. But his work also dealt with what it meant to be just an Amer­ican.

In his great collages (on canvas or board) of the late 1960s images of war, politics and demonstrations are inter­spersed with cuttings that read “POVERTY AMIDST PLENTY” or  “INJURED IN CHICAGO”.  In the 1970s, Arnold turned his attention to America’s blatant materialism—with­out even trying to conceal the pleasure of his own con­sumerist behaviour.  This ambivalence is part of what gives his collages their power—and their wit. Arnold’s homosexuality also made its way into his work—initially in a very quiet way, then more overtly as years progressed.

The strength of his multifarious oeuvre lies in Arnold’s irresistible personal­ity—bold, self-critical, generous, ethical and full of humour and genuine visual delight.

Ralph Arnold at Nolan Judin Berlin

2 responses to “Ralph Arnold”

  1. Mark Carioscia says:

    I was fortunate enough to be a student of Ralph’s in the 1990’s. He was a great artist, teacher and a wonderful human being. When I think back on my school days, he is one of the first to come to mind.

    He was straightforward and never pulled any punches, yet he did it in a way that was both gentle and out of concern. I still have some of the art and objects and “things” that we produced in his class as students. They have become sentimental to me after all these years.

    I was happy to find out recently that they named a building after Ralph (which was fitting) since he was the soul of the Design program.

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