The contemporary artist briefly put art on hold to focus on fatherhood, but his latest solo show, "Accumulus," serves as his resurgence.
Joseph Patrick Arnegger has a thing for clouds. Especially Sarasota clouds.
“My work is about memory and how memory, like clouds, aren’t permanent — they degrade over time,” the contemporary artist says. “That speaks to the patina of the work — how time eradicates the sharpness of stuff.”
Clouds are a constant background motif in his artwork, Arnegger says, and now they’re taking center stage in his latest solo exhibit, “Accumulus,” on display through Jan. 20 at GAZE Modern Gallery.
Arnegger moved to Sarasota in 1990 to attend Ringling College of Art and Design with the intention to only stay for a few years. What kept him here was a deep appreciation for not only the city’s “cloudscape,” but the natural light he finds both bright and muted in a way he’s only experienced here and along the Mediterranean Sea.
After college, Arnegger got a job at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art that he held for the next 10 years. He continued creating his own work, received gallery representation and got married, all while unexpectedly planting roots in what was meant to be a temporary home.
Walking into Arnegger’s Southgate home studio and seeing his 1-year-old, Amelia, sprawled out on the couch, those roots become evident. It’s also clear why he recently took a break from showing art in Sarasota.
“I’ve been focusing on other things lately like starting a family and being married and designing a house, so it’s nice to be honing in on making art,” Arnegger says. “That easily gets put third, fifth or sixth on your list of things to do … usually at this time of year I’m at Art Basel and I was perfectly happy to stay in town because I have a little tiny thing happening here.”
When fellow co-founder of the art collective S/ART/Q Tim Jaeger asked Arnegger to do a solo show for the gallery inside new Rosemary District apartment complex Arcos, it was the perfect push to get a brush back in his hand.
However, for Arnegger, the artistic process actually doesn’t start with a tool. It starts with searching for recycled materials — everything from wood that drifted ashore during a storm to a piece of the old Asolo Theater he snagged when it was being torn down — to make his own canvas.
“I like the idea of taking things that have an inherent history and that people discard as unremarkable … and revamping,” he says. “I think there’s so much overlooked beauty in the world that it’s nice to take overlooked objects and reintroduce them to people and show them what I think is beautiful about them.”
The process starts with object collection at places such as the beach, thrift stores or garage sales before moving into the construction phase. He becomes a carpenter when making his canvases, which he considers a work of art themselves. He then sketches atop the new surface, paints on it and often goes back over the paint with a drawing.
Much of Arnegger’s typical work is large-scale paintings and mixed media works, but due to the intimate gallery space of GAZE, he’ll be showcasing several smaller pieces he would normally create for friends or as sketches for larger works.
With a new daughter to look after — who chattered away while he was speaking — Arnegger says focusing on smaller pieces made preparing for the exhibit much more manageable than usual.
The goal of the exhibit is to give an overall look at the work he’s done during his nearly two decades in Sarasota. Thematically, the cloud motif has always been a common thread throughout that period because it represents everything Arnegger wants to portray in his art: memory, beauty, impermanence, color and light.
“We have hazy, Vaseline-lensed remembrances that you kind of flash back to, and I love the idea of clouds being a representation of that,” he says. “They don’t have a form or shape.”