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Between the Serene and the Ominous-Natalie Arnoldi’s paintings featured in Arts Manhattan inaugural show

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Natalie Arnoldi with one of her gas station paintings GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

Natalie Arnoldi with one of her gas station paintings

Arts Manhattan is no more. But don’t place a wreath on the coffin just yet because the group has, with modifications, metamorphosized into Art Avenue Foundation according to Homeira Goldstein.

As past president of the former and now president of the latter, Goldstein knows better than anyone else how the art organization she’s led has been progressing through our changing times.
She says that the name Arts Manhattan was somewhat vague.

“What we do is not just for Manhattan Beach but also for the surrounding communities. It’s much better not to have a location connotation attached to the name.”

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However, the internal drive will not remain exactly as it was before.

“We were really due for a change,” Goldstein says. “We needed new blood. It’s going to include a lot of new people, maybe people who are more in touch with contemporary art and people who are more active in the art world. I think our demographics is changing; the environment is changing everywhere, not just here.”

In the past, the City of Manhattan Beach has allotted Arts Manhattan time and space for two shows a year in the Creative Arts Center located across from Polliwog Park on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. The venue, although not difficult to reach, has always been hampered as a showcase for art by the fact that it was formerly a library. But because of management and/or policy changes Goldstein’s group will only be presenting one show there this year, and just one next year as well. After that, she says, the City told her that there will be two slots available for her each year.

“Retro,” painted by Natalie Arnoldi in 2012 COURTESY OF NATALIE ARNOLDI

“Retro,” painted by Natalie Arnoldi in 2012

What Goldstein realizes, of course, is that Art Avenue needs a kind of storefront presence, which means other venues where her organization can also hold exhibitions and thus keep their name and purpose in the public consciousness.

In the past, Arts Manhattan was also adamant about holding dance and music events, as well as insightful conversations with artists.

“I want to bring all of that back,” Goldstein says, “and we really do need a space, a larger space because what I believe in is to bring all forms of art together.”

That’s all well and good, but in the meantime Art Avenue is presenting its inaugural show, “Natalie Arnoldi: West of Manhattan,” and Homeira Goldstein has me convinced it’s going to be a good one.

“Untitled,” painted by Natalie Arnoldi in 2013 COURTESY OF NATALIE ARNOLDI

“Untitled,” painted by Natalie Arnoldi in 2013

Permeable barriers

Natalie Arnoldi is just 24 years old, but she seems to be ahead of the pack by at least a couple of laps. Although she grew up in an artistic household, Arnoldi’s recent degree from Stanford is in Earth Systems, where she specialized in ocean science and policy, and her bachelor’s is in Marine Biology.

Living in Malibu, Arnoldi has had the ocean whispering in her ear for a long time now. However, with exceptions, her work hasn’t been concerned with seascapes and the typical coastal scenes that local artists seem to cough up in droves.

What Arnoldi’s work does reflect is her concern for our finite natural resources, which she manages to convey through the half-seen, half-understood. As she explained to me:
“I am very interested in exploring the line between abstract and figurative work – trying to combine the ambiguous evocativeness of abstract painting with enough figurative representation to place the viewer in a specific time and space.

“I choose the imagery that I do for several reasons, the first of which being, of course, that they appeal to me. Airplanes, transportation, fossil fuels, dying technologies and environments; all are very important to me in both my academic and artistic life.”

Even though she’s about to become a practicing scientist, where she will be expected to bring clarity to her findings, Arnoldi purposefully obscures the objects in her art. In the end, the viewer must reach his or her own conclusions.

Curator and Art Avenue president Homeira Goldstein with artist Natalie Arnoldi GLORIA PLASCENCIA, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

Curator and Art Avenue president Homeira Goldstein with artist Natalie Arnoldi

“Part of why I choose such imagery,” she says, alluding to the railroad tracks or two-lane highways or airliners disappearing into mist or fog, “is because they are almost universally relatable but at the same time more specific – a characteristic that makes them evocative in a unique way. That I get a wide range of reactions, from serene to disturbing, to the one piece, is a testament to what I try to accomplish in my work: to create a piece of art which by engaging the viewer becomes a reflection of personal allegories and emotions that is unique for each person.”
In short, Mallarmé and Debussy knew this, Salome knew this, the veiled object is often more alluring than the one in floodlights. Arnoldi’s work can simultaneously appear tranquil and ominous, foreboding. A road disappearing into heavy fog: Is there a large truck about to emerge on the wrong side of the yellow lines? An airliner vanishing into mist: Is it about to hit something while in mid-flight?

Homeira Goldstein is engaged – the key word – by this sense of the mysterious and unknown, in which we are almost holding our breaths as we look into the work and wonder what will happen next. Or what has happened, in the case of the eerily-lit gas stations:

“They feel like a thing of the past,” Goldstein says. “You feel like you are in 2090 and you’re looking back, because in the future gas stations are going to be obsolete. When I look at her work I cannot just look at it and walk away.”

Arnoldi’s paintings appear to be strictly in black and white and gray, although there is color if one looks closely. However, in their austerity – for they are never crowded with extraneous detail – these somewhat monochromatic works suggest rather apocalyptic scenarios. One can read alienation or abandonment into them and, again, there is that sense of the foreboding.
Arnoldi mentions a Fourth of July fireworks show a few years back that took place when the cloud cover was so low that the fireworks actually disappeared into and exploded within the clouds. She recounts the beautiful, mysterious effects this created, and says that up until then she’d wondered how to incorporate color into her work. Well, fireworks in the fog was an image and an impetus that compelled her to create an entire series based on this rare phenomenon.
Personally, I find this series doubly interesting because exploding fireworks are both figurative and abstract at the same time, being a recognizable image and yet one that’s ephemeral without any real shape or form.

When asked whether she creates one piece at a time or has several going simultaneously, Arnoldi affirms the latter: “I almost always have multiple paintings that I am working on at once. This is not only because the style in which I paint requires a lot of drying time between layers, but also because I find working on multiple pieces at once helps me to slow down and gain more perspective on each piece, and be better able to place it in the context of whatever body of work it belongs to.”

I can’t wait to step into the gallery and see them all together.

“Natalie Arnoldi: West of Manhattan”
Where: The Creative Arts Center, 1560 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach
When: Opening reception Thursday, Sept. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m.; artist talk at 7 p.m. Hours, Tuesday, 2-6 p.m.; Wednesday, 4-8 p.m.; Thursday, 2-6 p.m.; Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Closes October 9.
Information: (310) 376-1790 or


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