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Elaine Badgley Arnoux: Once Upon a Time
July 12 - September 7, 2008
This exhibition will feature Elaine Badgley Arnoux's new work: Once Upon a Time, in which Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes are used as a departure point to illustrate her current social concerns. Like many of the stories in Mother Goose, Badgley Arnoux describes her childhood as dark. "I was very old when I was young; I wasn't young until I was old." Once Upon a Time features more than 62 visually stunning, reminiscent, and poignantly conflicting works -- paintings, sculptures and works on paper. (right: Elaine Badgley Arnoux, See Saw Margery Daw, 2004, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the Artist)
"The body of work in Once Upon a Time is a reflection of childhood at play with hard reality," Ms. Badgley Arnoux said. "Throughout this exhibition, the viewer will see selected nursery rhymes in startling juxtaposition to the dramatic political, historical and social events I have witnessed over my lifetime. I have always been in awe of the allegorical power and relevance that the nursery rhymes of my childhood still exert upon us today," she said.
Elaine Badgley Arnoux is a critically acclaimed San Francisco artist and teacher whose works have been featured in exhibitions in the United States and Europe for more than six decades -- with more than 30 solo exhibitions since 1957. She is known and respected as an artist-chronicler of San Francisco life and personalities, which were beautifully portrayed and displayed in her People of San Francisco -- 100 Portraits. These works include portraits of California's Speaker the House Nancy Pelosi, famed San Francisco Chronicle three-dot columnist Herb Caen and celebrated gourmet retailer Chuck Williams.
"Elaine Badgley Arnoux has the attributes of what Marxist scholar Antonio Gramsci describes as an organic intellectual," said Susan Hillhouse, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at The Museum of Art & History @ the McPherson Center. "The work she has produced over the past five years is the deepest, strongest and most sensitive work of her almost 70-year art career. It reveals her commitment to being a politically engaged, socially aware and aesthetically driven artist. As dark as some of the imagery is, there is always hope shining through her paintings, drawings and sculptures."
(above: Elaine Badgley Arnoux, There Was an Old Woman in a Basket Who Went Up to Sweep the Sky, 2006, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the Artist)
Wall text from the exhibition
Elaine Badgley Arnoux: Once Upon a Time
Within the structure of its materials, art holds a repository of experiences, emotions and exultations. If one drew a graph of Elaine Badgley Arnoux's life, it would reveal many high and low areas and very few static lines. For the first few years of her Nebraska-born life, she was the stereotypical apple-cheeked prairie child of America's heartland with a happy and wholesome family. However, when she was still very young, her father's mental state declined, and her life changed drastically. Faced with the events that ensued, most adults would have become unalterably disoriented and disillusioned by the challenges presented to this child. Instead, she became strong and resolute. By the age of 13, art became an empowering tool for self- expression.
Albert Camus could have had Badgley Arnoux in his heart when he wrote of an "invincible summer." Surely, part of her intrinsic optimism is manifested in her creative spirit, her resilient nature and her commitment to live life on her own terms. This artist's psychological stamina sustained and informed the sound personal and aesthetic decisions that have governed her adult life, and essentially allowed her to determine her own narrative.
It is fascinating to know which childhood memories define or drive one's adult psyche, and it is also interesting what material objects are kept close and available. When that person is an artist, we can "see" these mnemonic treasures embedded the artwork. A prime example of the way memory, experience and objects interrelate and marinate in materials and themes is found in Badgely Arnoux's strong sense of social justice. When she was three years old, she was given a copy of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes; this volume has taken up permanent residence on her night stand through her many childhood homes, her four marriages, and her life in three countries. Its illustrations and narratives served as a departure point and as a support through which the artist expressed her concerns for the world we all inhabit.
One could argue that this exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculpture has been in the works since she was a three-year old in 1929. Here, Elaine Badgley Arnoux shares her personal political and social dreams -- and nightmares -- for the United States. The themes of the paintings and sculptures include economic depression (Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross); the Holocaust (The Pied Piper of Hamlin); overpopulation and material excess (Old Woman in the Shoe); economic and social imbalance (See Saw Margery Daw); September 11, 2001 (The Old Woman Who Went up in a Basket to Sweep the Sky and The Fox Went Out One Chilly Night); the brutality of power; (For Every Evil) and a belief in the native goodness of the people of our country (Hope).
This may not be an easy exhibition to view. The messages of these narratives are harsh in the manner of Goya's dark, war-inspired masterpieces, works Badgley Arnoux cites as definitive and continuing influences. Although this type of work is difficult to look at, it is beautiful -- beautifully executed and realized. There is also beauty to be found in risk-taking. This authentic, from-the-soul art is accomplished through her innate talent, her almost 70 years of honing skills and her willingness to remain emotionally open and vulnerable. She spent the first 50 years of her career painting true and loving portraits of the American landscapes and its citizens. In the early 1990s, with the alarming increase in the homeless population, she and her work changed. She began to express anger and sorrow and frustration after a life time of being politically silent. She continues to paint and sculpt portraits of America, but now she also reveals snakes, rocks and boulders with sharp arrases along with the amber waves of grain of her homeland. Although she did not, as did Goya in his most famous protest painting, The Third of May 1808, use mops and sticks along with brushes to paint her pieces, she did employ expressionistic brushwork that recalls Goya's passionate lamentations.
Object label text from the exhibition
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