Jill Ewald, director of Flaten Art Museum, observed that, "Wendell has come to a place in his life where everything is coming together. The way the pieces relate to each other reflects strong, strong work."
Arneson's exhibit is a manifestation of his ongoing journey with this collection of work; some of the pieces have a three or four year legacy. He says that the art reflects not only the history of the work itself, but also his personal evolution as an artist. Wendell maintains that he has a continuous dialogue with all of his pieces.
"Any work should have a sense of change along the way, a journey, a sense of dialogue," he said. "As it grows and lives, sometimes it changes tremendously, sometimes it changes just a little, but it will always change. Especially if you listen to what it is giving you back."
Arneson also reflected on the importance of having a conversation with his art. "Every piece has a life of its own, and you just carry on. As a creator, I have an interesting discussion with it. As you stay open to that discussion, it often becomes something far different than what you thought it was going to be in the beginning," he said.
On one wall, a mixed-media-on-paper piece called "Dialogue" highlights sixty black-and-white images on a grid, which focus individually on images and themes present throughout the larger works. Start with these intimate, small, black-and-white images and, as you walk through the gallery, slowly immerse yourself in the rich color spreading out in the other direction, culminating in three vibrant oil-on-paper pieces.
As you travel through the exhibit, you will notice the dominance of the color red. For Arneson this color carries not only a powerful emotional charge, but honors his two daughters. "The color red became more prominent in my work after adopting our daughters from China and Vietnam, because it is a dominant color in those countries," he said.
Aside from this global sensitivity, there are some aspects of his pieces that have been part of his artistic consciousness since childhood. The numerous bird images hark back to his childhood on a dairy farm where his dad kept birdbaths. They reoccur so frequently "because of a sense of trying to find hope, and things that are magical and mystical don't keep us grounded to the earth," Arneson explained.
This is an exhibit that encourages the viewer to actively engage with the artwork. "Looking deeper into the pieces displayed was a shocking event," Andrew Foxwell '08 said. "Wendell Arneson's work was a wonderful juxtaposition of lines that led into finding objects and portraits I never knew existed. It was an amazing event where things worked together to compliment the true creative experience of the community."
It is intriguing to find images in the black-and-white pieces that work their way into the vibrantly colored paintings. How many birds can you find? Consider the scale and position of the images, as well as why they are where they are and how you might interpret them.
Arneson believes that artwork is never static: "Whoever views it, animates it and brings their journey to that particular expression, whatever that might be," he said.
Arneson's body of work is a kind of "visual mapping" of times, places, memories and relationships caught in a swirl of paint. The objects and figures carry his intentions, yet as Philosopher Francis Bacon once said, "the reality [of art] is the residue of the subject-matter." So, bring your own journey, if you will, to whatever strikes you in Arneson's art and consider the questions the pieces raise for you.