Robert Arneson

United States of America  1930–1992

Robert Arneson was born in Benicia, California, on 24 September 1930. As a child he drew a great deal, and by the age of l7 was contributing cartoons to the local newspaper, aspiring to a career as a professional cartoonist. He studied at the College of Marin Kentfield, California from1948 to 1952. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in art education from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, in 1954. While a high school teacher he became a proficient potter and, although he continued to paint and draw, ceramic became his dominant medium. In 1958 he was granted an M.F.A. from Mills College. Arneson accepted a position as head of the ceramics department at the University of California, Davis, in l962, becoming a full Professor of Art in 1973, by which time he had developed the program into one of the important in America.

Arneson’s first solo show was in 1960 at the Oakland Art Museum, California, and the first exhibition of his self-portraits was held at the Hansen Fuller Gallery, San Francisco, in 1972. Two years later a retrospective exhibition was organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Art. In 1981 Arneson was commissioned to sculpt a portrait of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, which was rejected in controversial circumstances. A second retrospective toured during 1986–1987 to the Des Moines Art Center, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, the Portland Art Museum, Oregon, and the Oakland Museum, California. Arneson received Honorary Doctorates from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, in 1985 and from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1987. In 1991 he was awarded the Art American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for Fine Art and in 1992 a Fellowship from the American Craft Council. Arneson died in Benicia on 2 November 1992. Commemorative exhibitions were held in San Francisco in 1993[i] and, since that time, museums and dealer galleries have shown exhibitions of his self-portraits, drawings and sculpture.

[i] John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, and M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco

See more works by this artist in the NGA collection

Robert Arneson Fragment of Western civilization 1972 © Robert Arneson. VAGA/Copyright Agency Purchased 1978 Learn more