Presenting an apocalyptic twist on the tranquil landscapes that typically adorn restaurant walls, Chester Arnold’s daunting seascapes forewarn disaster close to home. In each intimately sized, ornately framed oil painting, rowboats and ships struggle helplessly in raging waters off the coast of Northern California, just north of San Francisco. Typical of his practice, Arnold constructs his narratives from a bird’s-eye view and plays with perspectival shifts to disorienting effect. Water appears to spill off the canvas, lending to the works’ urgency and immediacy. Arnold’s paintings foster a host of associations, including Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, powerful news images of post-hurricane flooding in New Orleans and Puerto Rico, and Syrian refugees dangerously crossing the Mediterranean Sea. As rising global temperatures cause extreme weather events and increasingly powerful ocean waves, destroying homes and forcing migration, Arnold’s work imparts a sense of things to come, reminding us that time is running out.
Incoming Tide, 2019; oil on linen panel. An Age of Heavy Seas, Survivors, The Sinking of the Tennessee, Marin Headlands, and The Wave at Goat Rock, 2021; oil on linen. Courtesy the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco
Bay Area artist Chester Arnold paints contemporary landscapes devoid of figures but in which human presence is palpable. Narratives both cataclysmic and sublime unfurl in his oil paintings, highlighting the struggles and resilience of nature. His works have been exhibited extensively in US museums, including a 2022 retrospective at the Fresno Art Museum.