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Robert Arneson was born in Benicia, California in 1930 and spent nearly his entire life in his beloved home city. Arneson showed great promise as an artist from an early age with pencil and colored pencil drawings and throughout his career worked in a variety of media. However, he is best known for his pioneering work in ceramics.
Arneson began his artistic career as a high school ceramics teacher and spent 30 years as a professor of ceramics at UC Davis. In the 1960s, he found his own artistic identity by making sculptures of common everyday objects that were not functional ceramics. These early works include colorful plates, trophies, toasters, typewriters, bottles, and even toilets. By the 1970s, Arneson’s subject matter shifted and he became heavily devoted to the self-portraits for which he is most famous today. These self-portrait sculptures and paintings were often humorous, satirical, irreverent, and even vulgar on the surface, but ultimately they express Arneson’s interest in the human condition.
Arneson died on November 2, 1992 in Benicia after a long battle with cancer. Along with fellow California artists Ken Price, William T. Wiley, and Roy de Forest, Arneson is considered one of the progenitors of the Funk Art Movement. His ceramic sculptures can be found today in museums and private collections all over the country, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Museum of Arts and Design (New York), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington DC), and the Yale University Art Gallery.Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers