Robert Arneson (American, born in Benicia, California 1930 — 1992)

The thing I’ve always been interested in as an artist is the thing the establishment says you can’t do – mix humor with fine art. Of course I was always in limbo – the fine artists never considered ceramists to be fine artists, and the ceramists didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

From a young age, Robert Arneson’s father encouraged him to draw, developing aspirations to be a cartoonist. It was after college, while he was teaching at a high school, that he became interested in ceramics. Because he didn’t have the educational background, he was able to work and discover the medium uninhibitedly.

Peter Voulkos’ vicissitude within the medium inspired Arneson to be more adventurous and break pre-established cultural boundaries. He rejected the idea that ceramics had to be solely decorative or functional, making nonfunctional works that contradicted formal ceramics.

Arneson’s interest in cartoons is clearly present in his witty and humorous style, which at times borders on being offensive. His countless self portraits in clay, using photos, mirrors and drawings, helped him to portray himself in different ways. His face provides a constant in these sculptures, revealing the human condition.  

While Arneson’s first love had been drawing, he discovered that love in clay, seeing it as drawing in three dimensions. With clay, he was able to add and subtract to forms, while showing the presence of his hand, always an integral aspect within his work.