Robert Arneson

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Robert Arneson
Nuclear Warhead #1
Acrylic, oil stick, and alkyd on paper.
43 x 53 inches (109.2 x 134.6 cm)
Gift of Jean Crutchfield and Robert Hobbs.

Arneson was a prominent California-based ceramicist who is known for figurative sculptures and drawings that challenge the bounds of good taste. Alongside other Bay Area artists whose work is referred to as "Funk," he was a longtime faculty member at the University of California, Davis, where he founded the ceramics department. In the 1980s, Arneson created a group of sculptures and drawings that protest the nuclear arms race. In 1984 he told an interviewer, "I'm trying to scream, 'Hey, look out, we're in serious trouble today.'" He drew on photos and first-hand accounts of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to convey the devastation of nuclear war. This drawing depicts a figure in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. As is typical of Arneson, it uses wordplay: The war head of the title refers both to the weapon itself and to the head in the drawing, which has been disfigured beyond recognition. As a work of protest, it makes a powerful statement, but it is formally striking as well. The head, which occupies about three quarters of the sheet, is rendered in a combination of colorful media applied in short, gestural lines, dots, and squiggles. The effect is at once gruesome and sensually tactile, evoking his three dimensional work. The drawing's title is written across the top against a gray ground that suggests total destruction.


Dated lower left, "2.11.83"; signed lower right, "ARNESON". Titled at top: NUCLEAR WAR HEAD #1".

The artist (Hansen Fuller Goldeen Gallery, San Francisco); Robert Hobbs and Jean Crutchfield (1986); gift to the Morgan (2022)
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