Robert Arneson

Birth Year
Death Year

Trained as a ceramicist at California College of Arts and Crafts, Robert Arneson rebelled against the thought that ceramic artists must produce only decorative or utilitarian items. Rather, in his view, the distinguished history of clay forms was the common denominator of Western civilization, and therefore entitled to parity with sculpture and painting. He thus began creating non-functional clay pieces that commented on modern society and politics. Gateway to Self-Realization, one of the last works he completed before his death, synthesizes many of the issues and forms that Arneson addressed throughout his career. While the work is clearly inward, Arneson's art was frequently playful and always fully engaged with contemporary culture.

The self-portrait is a constant presence in his works, often treated with humor and wit. By using his own image he is able to express frustrations with the human condition on behalf of all people. In Gateway to Self-Realization, the four faces on the tops and bottoms of the columns are self-portraits of the artist. Arneson's faces are engaged in an endless self-regard. While the portraits seem to be confronting the visage directly opposite them, the eyes are, in fact, looking down toward the face at the base: their own reflection in steel. Thus, the stainless steel plates that lie above and below the columns become eternal layers of self-reflection. Arneson also intertwines architectural and sculptural traditions, with his use of capitals and columns. The classically white columns evoke solemn and contemplative emotions and provide a remote meditation from the world.


Gateway to Self-Realization

Robert Arneson, 1992