The Whirlwind Opening Reception of Van Arno’s “Upright” & Molly Gruninger “Luminescent”

The opening of Van Arno’s “Upright” and Molly Gruninger’s “Luminescent” was a whirlwind night filled with laughter, art legends, costumes, animal friends, and of course great art. At the door stood a friend of Arno’s dressed as a butler showing off the exclusive wooden box set of prints, and throughout the evening the models in Arno’s work dressed in black and adorned with a white rose enjoyed the showing with the packed house of art enthusiasts. The Godfather of the Low Brow movement, Robert Williams, came to show his support for Van Arno along with fellow movement veteran Anthony Ausgang.

In the project room, Molly Gruninger’s “Luminescent” illuminated her understanding and manipulation of light in her flawless oil painting works. The pieces look digitally rendered, but the only digital element in her pieces are the references she uses to then put paint on canvas.

Both exhibitions are on view now through February 24th.

Click here to view available pieces by Van Arno: Upright

Click here to view available pieces by Molly Gruninger: Luminescent

Van Arno Studio Visit for “Upright”

Van Arno welcomed us into his studio to view the works for “Upright” opening this Saturday, February 3rd. In a casual behind the scene tour of Arno’s work, he shares a few of the stories behind the pieces.

Thank you to our resident videographer/photographer Birdman for putting the video together!


Interview with Van Arno for “Upright”

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present New Contemporary veteran Van Arno’s solo exhibition Upright in our gallery’s main room. The exhibition features Arno’s dynamic figurative work that plays with proportion and distortion throughout the composition from narrative to the technical elements. In anticipation of the exhibition opening, Saturday, February 3rd, our interview with Van Arno discusses his perspective on the evolution of the New Contemporary art movement to his creative process. Also why Salvador Dali is not on the list for a dinner party.

Opening reception, Saturday, February 3rd  from 6 pm to 9 pm. 

SH: As the body of work in this exhibition was developed on highlighting the individual figure, where did you draw inspiration to develop the composition?
VA: I didn’t set out to do a series. The first piece I did was Sweet Tart, and I was really happy with how it turned out. I had cropped into the figure a lot, so although it isn’t a huge painting (24”x 48”) she is slightly larger than life. I was excited to do more work along those lines, and the series came out of that. It’s Upright because all but one are vertical compositions.

My horizontal piece, Susanna And The Elders, is composed differently, and in a sense, it is a transition piece leading me into this new series. It’s a biblical story about a woman who is spied on while bathing by two old men. It’s been painted a lot through history, and it is usually about intimacy invaded by voyeurs. I felt observing a person whose life has deteriorated and is no longer able to behave rationally is far more invasive.

SH: How has your creative process evolved over the years? What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?
VA: For a long time my work was very focused on narrative. I would find some nugget of a story from history or mythology, and try to use it as a launch pad, to make the story reflect my skewed opinion about the event or general human behavior.

My new series is more focused on individuals, specifically these models. I’ve worked with some of them for years, and I know most of them pretty well. My struggle was to avoid doing pin-ups, so I wanted them to be strong, in control, self-possessed, and most of all individuals. This seems very of the moment right now, but when I started the series 2 years ago, #metoo was not on anyone’s radar.

SH: If you were to have a dinner party, which 5 people would you invite (dead or alive)? What would be on the menu? And what is the one question you’d ask from everyone?
VA: Well, I respect lots of kinds of creativity, but I’d invite artist because I’m interested in what kind of people they are. Gene Kelly was a genius and shaped the last half of the twentieth century more than people realize. I’d invite Jack Davis because his Mad Magazine work really inspired my youth and because Todd Schorr told me a funny story about meeting him. I’d include Greg “Cray” Simkins because I just don’t see him enough. We need a historic Italian painter so that’s gotta be Giambattista Tiepolo- the Hemingway of Rococo Painting. The northern renaissance should be represented, so that’s gotta be you, Roger Van dear Weyden. Salvador Dali is not invited. He’d overrun the conversation and eat all the oysters. We are having oysters.

I’d let questions unfold organically

SH: In your work, there is clearly a love of form, especially the body, where do you gather your references? Does the form inspire the rest of the piece? Or does the composition’s story inform the form of the body?
VA: Sometimes I really have a character in mind, like Medea or the Mayan goddess Ixchel, and I find the model that brings something to the story. Other times I start with the model. If she has super strong legs, I give her 4 of them.

SH: What were you listening to while developing this body of work? Does your background noise influence the mood of the pieces?
VA: I rarely listen to music. It’s too distracting. ….This song makes me want to hear a different song by this artist, or a cover of it by another artist, and which album came out first? And is this person dead? And no I don’t want to hear this next song…

I like to have old movies on or marathons of tv shows I’ve seen. I find this just engaging enough, but sometimes hours pass before I look at the screen.

SH: Which piece in this show was most challenging and why?
VA: The Floor Is Lava was very challenging. I paint from reference photos that I shoot, and usually, the figure is composed of multiple photos because the poses are deceptively difficult. But on this piece, the perspective in my hallway was way different on different photos. Rectifying all this was a technical bloodbath.

SH: How do you know a piece is complete? When do you step away?
VA: It’s pretty tempting not to stop. Every piece I’ve done has elements that I could fix/improve. But, ultimately I stop when I’ve achieved communicating my intent. While I know I could polish it up more, I’d rather have it look a little rough. Like a human person made it.

SH: You have helped to shape what is now considered the New Contemporary Art Movement, what does the feel like to have been at the start of the evolution of something and to watch it progress?
VA: It’s remarkable because when I went to art school in 1984, fine art was a whole different animal. I was told figurative painting was extinct, and if I must paint, I should paint with a broom, or with cranberry sauce, and that video art was the future. Fine art was an austere, academic, inaccessible thing that no one liked. Now I see people at art openings on dates! Fine art became interesting and exciting. Robert Williams and street art and Juxtapose and Thinkspace did that! I’m privileged to have my career be part of this amazing transformation.

SH: What advice would you give to artists breaking into the art world and can you tell us about the first time you exhibited your work to the public, where was it? Do you remember the piece? (outside of school)
VA: My first show was at the Onyx coffee house on Vermont in LA, it’s now cafe Figaro and I still like to go there and sit in the room. I showed a bunch of paintings of Olive Oyl, who was my first muse. I bet I will paint her again this year. I am a teacher now, which I enjoy like crazy, and I’ve given out loads of advice. The best of it really boils down to – “the best way to start is to start… and you can’t fail at anything until you quit.”

VAN ARNO – UPRIGHT – Opening February 3rd, 2018

February 3, 2018 – February 24, 2018

(Los Angeles, CA) – Thinkspace is pleased to present Upright, featuring new works by Los Angeles-based artist Van Arno. An established veteran of the New Contemporary movement, Arno has been exhibiting his dynamic figurative work since the 90s and has regularly been featured on the pages of Juxtapoz magazine, appearing there as early as 1999. Subscribing to the creed that, ‘more is more,’ Arno has always pushed the limits of the body and the narrative, challenging both to the point of rupture and distortion.

Arno has sustained an ambivalent relationship to storytelling for decades, shifting in and out of loose references to mythology, politics, pop culture and art history. These allusions have remained intentionally unfixed throughout his work, as he channels the surreal results of indiscriminate and unexpected recombinations. In Upright, Arno’s focus is re-posited on the individual figure, rather than on multiple interacting protagonists, looking to one body as a caricatural and psychological vessel for story. In a conscious move away from the overarching demands of storytelling, however, Arno returns to the fascination of the localized and the individual without abandoning the theatrics and hyperbole of his signature style.

The artist’s penchant for distortion is at the core of these iconic works. With a refusal to follow anatomical, perspectival, or gravitational laws, his paintings become titillating, dynamic, and lawless things. The surreal emerges everywhere in Arno’s deck, explosively at times even, with an orgiastic irreverence. Some have likened his pictorial style to the extreme and contorted affectations of Mannerism, the Late Renaissance stylizations that emerged in the wake of its exhausted pursuit of verisimilitude. Arno’s past images, by contrast, have been compared to the elaborate staging of history painting or the symbolic tangents of allegorical tableaux, but far from idyllic restraint, they’re cast in the sharp hues of contemporary psychotropic prolapse.

Though this new body of work marks a departure in its focus on the individual figure, the mythological, historical, pop cultural, and iconographic references Arno has long sutured together in his imagery remain. Referencing freely from our shared cultural reserves, the works incorporate everything, from the era of classic Hollywood and the crossing of the Bering Straits, to the violence of ancient Greek mythology and even Blinky the mutant three-eyed fish of Simpson’s fame. By providing the viewer with an entry point into the work, Arno uses the culturally familiar to intensify the impact of his iconoclastic gestures.

Another art historical paradigm Arno continues to engage is that of the female nude. His emphasis on the distortions of bare flesh, however, feel more in service of his unique stylization and thematic excess than on fetishism. Often bordering on the abhorrent or abject, the expressive potential of nakedness in his compositions takes on an intrigue beyond just that of erotica. The naked female body is no less present in this new body of work, intensified even, by the emphasis on a singular subject in all its contorted glory.

In Upright, Arno explores the individual figure as an expressive vessel for narrative and fiction. The works, in their selective disclosures and seemingly intensified withholdings, feel more inscrutable and cryptic than ever before. Selectively revealing, they offer entry points into the artist’s larger than life world of beautifully misshapen fictions and symbolic hooks.

‘Worlds On Fire’ opening night shots…

Thanks to and Justin Giarla of the Shooting Gallery along with Kris Lewis, the worlds of music and contemporary art collided head on last night in the heart of downtown Los Angeles’ art district for the VIP opening of Worlds On Fire. The invite-only GenArt sponsored event was packed from the jump off and heated up as the night drew on.

Opening night crush…

Van Arno in front of his stunning BB King portrait.

Travis Louie with his portrait of Trent Reznor (NIN).

Kris Lewis alongside his portrait of Beck.

Mr. Brainwash alongside his mosaic piece of Jay-Z made out of old vinyl LPs.

Mike Maxwell poses with his piece of ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen.

Artist couple Brandt Peters and Kathie Olivas were in town for Brandt’s show at 1988 (opening this evening) and popped in to support their close friends Sas & Colin Christian and take in the festivities… if you get a chance, be sure to check out Brandt’s debut solo over at 1988.

Shawn from Thinkspace with man of the hour

The man who pulled the show all together – Shooting Gallery‘s Justin Giarla with up and coming monster Henry Lewis.

Speaking of Henry Lewis, his portrat of Nas was one of the showstoppers in our opinion…

As was this stunning portrait of Snoop Dogg from Jeremy Lipkin. Just amazing – one of the best in show by far.

Some great photos can also be found here and here, as well as images of most of the works in the exhibit – so be sure to check out both AM and Daily D for more.

Each of the show pieces will be sold by silent auction with the proceeds going to the Peapod Foundation.

Worlds on Fire runs through Sunday February 8th, so there’s still time to catch this killer exhibit. For full details and hours check out

Pacific Electric Lofts @ 610 S. Main Street in downtown Los Angeles