Arkansas Sketchbook: Kevin Arnold

“Slow Burn”
Kevin Arnold | 2017 | Oil and collage on canvas

KEVIN ARNOLD WANTS you to slow down. It’s an idea that goes back many years, one that first started to take hold when he was doing his undergraduate work at the Rhode Island School of Design. Challenged by his professors to break from the traditional narratives that he’d been relying on, he turned to the world of hyper-realism and started painting the mundane. He’d paint boxes and stacks of folding chairs, placing them in galleries, where he says he’d watch people mentally gloss over them, thinking that the painting was not a painting at all.

Fast forward a few years, and while the work has experienced fairly dramatic change, that principle—the idea of slowing down, letting things stew—is still very much the same. To look around the barn-turned-studio, there’s ample evidence of this in the work that he’s now producing.

But the idea goes beyond the viewer’s experience. Because in speaking with him, you understand these paintings and the approach he takes didn’t just happen overnight. It took finishing school, coming home to Arkansas, teaching at the U of A for four years. It took leaving the state to follow his girlfriend, a travel nurse, around the country for two years, having to do work small and portable enough that he could pack it up after each 3-5 month stint in a place. It took landing a massive studio space in Seattle, the last stop on their tour, working in a space where everything that had been building for the past several years finally found a voice, exploding onto 8- and 9-foot canvases in vibrant, chaotic mélanges of collage and color, largely a response to the present political climate.

It’s interesting, then, in thinking about all of this, to consider the parallel with the viewer’s experience. Because much in the same way that it takes time to parse the elements on the canvas and discern the narrative that carries the work forward, the work’s production required patience and a long gestation to find its way onto the canvas, or, as he puts it, a long time in the pot. However, just the same, one has to wonder: Maybe everything he’s done, and everything he’s yet to do, was there all along. Maybe it just takes looking a little closer.—jph

Interested in seeing Kevin’s work? While the above was finished just weeks before we went to press, a different piece—“Inauguration Day”—will be exhibited beginning June 9th as part of the 59th Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center.