Joseph Patrick Arnegger works and lives in a spacious warehouse studio, a block south of an impoundment lot on a stretch of Central Avenue that is neither charming nor blighted.
When you knock on Arnegger’s door, above which hang two, droopy upside-down Y’s salvaged from the end of a steel alphabet, an English mastiff named Bess greets you.
The room is sweltering. Painfully hot. In August it’s almost unbearable to work in the studio, much less sleep there. Even Arnegger admits that he spends his summers in movie theaters partly for air conditioning, partly for inspiration.
“My carbon footprint is really small at the moment,” he laughs, bending to roll layers of white paint over a large rectangular board.
Dressed in a gray T-shirt and saggy jeans, Arnegger, 40, appears to barely break a sweat in the stifling non air-conditioned space. Even Bess seems content.
“The hot nights make it hard to sleep, but when I’m working, it doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I spend most of my time in this place, so it’s ridiculous to rent an apartment.”
He usually crashes at a friend’s place in August and September in exchange for a painting, but here he is — mid-August — still living in his 90-degree studio.
Of all the creature comforts Arnegger requires, it’s having space to paint that he covets most, which was why when he signed his lease five years ago, he opted not to relocate to New York City like many of his peers.
“You’d never get this kind of space in New York,” Arnegger says. “Plus, Sarasota is so damn beautiful. It’s about clouds, weather, beach and sun. It’s a good place to come home to sleepy and dreary-eyed. I can reboot here.”
A Ringling College of Art and Design grad, Arnegger was born in Boston, but grew up in Connecticut and Montauk, Long Island, where, as a child, he tagged along with his grandparents, both of whom show up often in his paintings — his grandmother, fashionable in a ladylike hat, and his grandfather, a World War II veteran, inside the cockpit of a Cessna Skyhawk.
“Out there, they call it The End,” he says of the idyllic seaside town he loves to capture in buttery yellows and pale blues. “It’s still a cool place, even though The Hamptons are a little, you know, overrun with the hipster über rich.”
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Montauk is to Arnegger what Paris was to Hemingway, in short, a moveable feast, and the inspiration for much of his best work.
“His art has a real presence of himself in it,” says friend and fellow painter Tim Jaeger. “The imagery is something that reminds you of old billboards and posters, things that people kind of used to overlook.
Joseph takes the mundane things in life and makes them interesting.”
Three years ago, Arnegger was the chief preparator and exhibit designer at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, where he worked for 10 years before a back injury laid him up for months, prompting him to reevaluate his life.
“I didn’t like the direction the museum was going in,” he says flatly, using the end of his paintbrush to clean underneath his fingernails. “It was treated more like an amusement park than a place where art and scholarship mattered. It had become more about making safe moves and getting butts in seats.”
A Sarasota resident since 1990, Arnegger decided to leave his post at Ringling in 2006 to concentrate on making art and forging relationships with gallery owners and fellow artists.
In the months that followed his departure, he painted dozens of works on random pieces of found materials — old doors, scrap lumber and junked wooden panels found in dumpsters and on the side of the road, surfaces he says he prefers to clean, white canvases because they come imbedded with their own history.
He painted the Danbury Fair, orange blossoms and water-skiers. He painted his grandmother, whom he called “Lovie,” smoking a cigarette in big, white sunglasses and red lipstick. He painted ferris wheels and 1940s pinup models. He painted postcards, and, in his own words, “what little kids see in clouds.”
“It’s how I deal with my personal history,” Arnegger says. “The paintings are mostly about nostalgia, childhood.”
These days, Arnegger guesses he has about 50 paintings hanging in galleries from Seattle to Miami, including several works at the HuB in Sarasota’s Rosemary District.
Turning to face what work remains in his studio — in particular, an image of a little boy in white shorts and striped tube socks at a fair — Arnegger apologizes for not having much in stock.
“I’m starving,” he says, smiling. “But I’m painting better, and I’m more excited than I’ve been in 10 years.”
What is s/ART/q?
After Friday night’s successful $5 screen-printing event at the HuB, some Sarasota art patrons might be asking themselves: What the heck is s/ART/q?
Co-founded by Joseph Patrick Arnegger and artist Tim Jaeger, s/ART/q is an independent co-op of professional, visual artists dedicated to making contemporary art more accessible to the community.
Last weekend’s event, which served as a soft introduction to the group and brought more than 1,000 people to the Rosemary District, is the first in a series of outreach programs aimed at promoting s/aRT/q’s 13 founding members, a roster which includes Tobey Albright, James Evans, Brian Haverlock, Brandon Maupin, Ricky Otto, Daniel Perales, Jeff Schwartz, Sabrina Small, Tom Stephens, David Piurek and Daniel Miller.
“This group is our answer to the question: Where can I find art in Sarasota that isn’t a painting of a pelican?” Arnegger says.
Established in 2008, the group’s mission is to organize contemporary art events, scope out affordable live/work spaces, partner with local non-profits and develop educational outreach programs.
“We’re still in the infant stage right now, which is fine,” Arnegger says. “We plan to take our time and be around for awhile.”
For more information, visit www.sartq.com.