Robert Arneson

artist artwork
Born in Benicia, California in 1930, Robert Arneson was encouraged by his father to draw. He became a proficient draftsman early in life and drew cartoons for a local newspaper as a teenager. After Arneson studied art education at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland he taught in a local high school, where he became interested in ceramics. He went on to receive an MFA from Mills College in 1958. Arneson became head of the ceramics department at the University of California at Davis in 1962 and became a full professor of art in 1973.

Arneson was greatly influenced by the expressionist work of fellow Californian Peter Voulkos, who had studied Pablo Picasso's works in clay. This influence stimulated Arneson to be more adventurous and to break through previously established sculptural boundaries. Arneson rejected the idea that ceramic artists produce only utilitarian or decorative items. He began creating non-functional clay pieces, contradicting the more formal traditions previously associated with this medium. He created a number of self-portraits using photographs, mirrors, and drawings; each one seemed to reveal a new identity. Although by definition self-referential, the ironic and humorous self-portraits were used as vehicles to present universal concepts and feelings. Arneson was part of the dynamic group of irreverent California Pop artists whose work has come to be known as "Funk Art." After the artist became ill with liver cancer in the early 1980s, his work became progressively more somber in tone. Arneson's own confrontation with death made him aware of society's flirtation with mass destruction.