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Image of Colosseum


80 x 66 in. (203.2 x 167.64 cm)

Chester Arnold (Santa Monica, California, 1952 - ) Primary

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on linen
Credit Line: Gift of Katie and Drew Gibson
Accession Number: 2011.12.03


City Limits, City Life, December 13, 2014 - June 14, 2015, Historic Wing, Paul L. Davies Gallery, San José Museum of Art.

Breaking Ground: Gifts from Katie and Drew Gibson, July 18, 2013 - October 20, 2013, New Wing, Second Floor, North Gallery, San José Museum of Art.

SJMA Label Text

City Limits, City Life (2014-2015)

In this work Arnold reminds us of humanity’s connected and conflicted relationship with the natural environment through an interesting play of dialectics. The subject of Arnold’s painting is an enormous, three-tiered stadium—a symbol of human engineering and ingenuity. At the painting’s four corners parking lots, freeways, and buildings encircle the stadium, suggesting this impressive structure is situated within a dense urban landscape. While Arnold allows us to see most of the stadium’s interior by employing a bird’s eye perspective, it results in human spectators reduced to the size of tiny specs. Thereby, Arnold reminds us of our physically humbling relationship to the built and natural environment.

Missing from the stadium’s green field are chalk lines that normally mark the boundaries of play or special equipment associated with the kind of play involved. Thus, it is uncertain whether the spectators who fill the stadium’s seats have gathered for a game or for an entirely different reason altogether. Arnold titled this painting using the same spelling normally reserved for the Colosseum in Rome. Therefore, it is reasonable to imagine that the spectators who fill the stadium might be watching the proceedings of a modern day battle, similar to the gladiator matches of antiquity. A large, white and gray billowing cloud of smoke hovers above the stadium’s bottom lower right side stand, perhaps the result of the igniting of fireworks or a cannon’s firing. Directly across from the cloud of smoke an orange fireball seems to have erupted in the stands, possibly a consequence of the cannon’s explosion. The stadium’s lone flag, positioned in the painting’s foreground and right in front of the white and gray cloud, hangs motionless and limp—alerting us to the ironic stillness of the entire scene. While we can imagine the raucous clamor and roar of the crowd, our elevated position would most certainly reduce their loud cheers to faint cries. As a result, Arnold has produced a dramatic work filled with tension created between opposing effects.

Breaking Ground: Gifts from Katie and Drew Gibson (2013)

Chester Arnold creates dramatic, large-scale oil paintings that address human actions and events that negatively affect the natural world. While concept and content take leading roles in his work, Arnold does not overlook technique or formal considerations. Indeed, he strikes a balance between social and political responsibility and aesthetic drama in his paintings.

In Colosseum, an enormous three-tiered stadium—a symbol of human engineering and ingenuity—dominates the frenetic urban scene. Arnold titled the painting using the same spelling primarily reserved for the Colosseum in Rome, which might offer clues to understanding the raucous sight below. From an aerial vantage point, we look down at smoke and fire erupting from the amphitheater’s stands and spectators rushing across the grassy field. Like its Roman counterpart, Arnold’s arena might be a stage for a battle or fight—perhaps over the last open green space in the area.

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  • Image Dimensions: 80 x 66 in. (203.2 x 167.64 cm)

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