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Ken Nack / Michael Arntz
Santa Barbara: 1960s - 1980s

September 22 - November 3, 2018

In 1950, Life magazine featured painter Ken Nack on its list of the nineteen most noteworthy young painters, and over the next decade, Nack was included in many of the most important group shows of the day, including MOMA’s Twenty-One American Painters and pivotal shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rather than create a life in New York—which would have been expected—in 1962, Nack accepted an academic post in the small California hamlet of Santa Barbara, and began a particularly fruitful period of his creative life. He started making abstract mixed media works that included collaged ephemera, wildly thick paint, splatterings, irregular forms and globular shapes—work that departed greatly from the controlled, surrealism-inspired paintings he’d become known for. The works from Nack’s Santa Barbara period—arguably his most mature and unique—have rarely been shown. Ceramicist Michael Arntz was an academic in Santa Barbara during the same period Nack was—Arntz taught art at UC Santa Barbara for thirty-five years—and like Nack’s paintings, Arntz’s sculptures from this period shows an experimental spirit that feels uniquely Californian; works with protuberances that feel vaguely bodily, or reminiscent of tentacles—works that resonate with the Funk art being made in the Bay Area during the same timeframe. Nack’s and Arntz’s works, taken together, provide an important snapshot of the scene in Santa Barbara in the second half of the twentieth century, where artists, far from the larger communities in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, felt particularly free to experiment.

Many of Ken Nack’s Santa Barbara works feature collaged ephemera—yellowed bits of newsprint, antique photographs, the backs of postcards—often in languages other than English. (Nack maintained studios in Spain and Paris, which he’d visit in the summers.) This ephemera—often ripped—appears atop a background often painted in dark or muddy hues, in irregular abstract patterns that suggest shading or even having been burned. Many of these works feature an application of paint so heavy that at times it appears to have been poured on; quite often, the surface is raised with lumps and bumps, and sometimes with splattered lines that rise above the picture’s surface. Often, amidst the ripped forms of the ephemera and the shaded irregular shapes that create the background, a single perfect circle of color appears. Though all are abstract, some of Nack’s works feel celestial, with his circle figure standing in for a moon, or two circles bringing to mind planets. Eventually, larger items were being collaged onto his canvases—ironwork building materials and drawer pulls, for example—creating an even more textured surface. Some of Nack’s sixties works still show echoes from his fifties paintings, and his time in Paris studying with Fernand Léger and considering the great paintings of Europe—in one, delicate linework brings to mind the paintings of Miro. His seventies works, however, are a full departure from his surrealist influences, and his eighties works a further departure still, with their large iron inclusions, which make them almost sculptural.

Michael Arntz’s sculptures often feel organic or geological, and sometimes include floral forms, fish or tentacle shapes, fruit, or bodily protrusions. In 1967, The Los Angeles Times wrote of twenty-eight-year-old Michael Arntz, in a review of his show of large ceramic sculptures, “Arntz’s statements are as eloquent as a commanding totem pole, as fertile of symbol as fruit about to burst with ripeness. They might have grown out of the earth—overnight, as a mushroom appears. Discovering them, one is tempted to associate them with magic powers, or make use of them in invocations to the pagan deity for rich harvest.” During the period this show considers, Arntz was teaching art at UC Santa Barbara, and showing in major exhibitions throughout California and the West—including solo shows at the Long Beach Museum of Art, the University of Nevada and the University of Utah, as well as watershed group shows at the Pasadena Art Museum—and also internationally: in the early 1970s, Arntz was included in important invitational exhibitions at the National Museum in Tokyo and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In a full-page profile of Arntz that appeared in 1970, the Christian Science Monitor described his “monolithic forms, convoluting shapes, slab-constructions dripping with appendages create a feeling of strength, of growing things.” “I try to bring together the organic and the inorganic,” Arntz told the Monitor. Arntz often produced clay sculptures on a massive scale; while a student, he worked at Architectural Pottery under David Cressey. Some of his sculptures feel geological—at times featuring a split reminiscent of earthquake fissures, allowing the viewer to see their insides, and are sometimes painted with stripes reminiscent of the earth’s striations—while others feel biological. Still others—especially those in plexiglass or metal—include sharp edges, perfect globes, or snaking tubes. All reflect a freedom of form and zest for experimentation that feels exceptionally Californian.

Kenneth Nack was born in 1923 in Chicago and passed away in 2009. He attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, graduating in 1949. After graduation, he moved to Paris, where he studied with Fernand Léger. In 1950, he was featured in LIFE magazine as one of the nineteen best young American painters. Mr. Nack traveled extensively in Mexico and Europe and ran a gallery in San Francisco before he finally settled in Santa Barbara, California. Mr. Nack was Chair of the Art Department at Santa Barbara City College for 35 years. Nack had solo exhibitions at Landau Gallery, Los Angeles; Thibaut Gallery, New York and appeared in group exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Pasadena Art Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Michael Arntz was born in Los Angeles in 1939. He was awarded his Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Long Beach in 1962, and his Master of Fine Arts from California State, Long Beach in 1964. From 1963 - 1965 he was the Designer/Craftsman at Architectural Pottery Corporation. Over his career he has had numerous solo exhibitions with The Esther Bear Gallery, Santa Barbara; Jacqueline-Anhalt Gallery, Los Angeles; Galeria Del Sol, Santa Barbara; Fairtree Gallery, New York; The Quay Gallery, San Francisco; Hartnell College, Salinas; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; Fermi Lab, Chicago; Sun Valley Arts Center, Sun Valley Idaho; The University of Utah, Salt Lake City; The Long Beach Museum of Art and the Art Museum Gallery, and the University of California Santa Barbara. His work has appeared in group exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Lange Art Galleries at Scripps College, the Oakland Museum, the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the Pasadena Museum of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others. Arntz was Professor of Studio Art at the University of California Santa Barbara from 1965 retiring as Professor Emeriti in 2003. He has received awards, fellowships and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, The American Craft Council, The California State Exposition Fund and National Endowment for the Arts.