Vincent Arnold in Depth About His Paintings, Becoming an Artist, Motivation & More

by Rubén Palma
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Vincent Arnold (b.1986), grew up in Sherbrooke, Canada, where he still resides and works. In 2012 he received a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Quebec in Montreal. Through his art, he displays a preference for figurative work where he creates characters evoking unintentional self-portraits. His work has been exhibited at Lorin Gallery (Los-Angeles), 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace (Australia), Real Tinsel (Wisconsin), Bellevue Art Museum (Washington) and (Los Angeles).

“As a figurative painter, I create characters that are, in a way, involuntary self-portraits reflecting my own identity. This interpersonal concept goes further than my simple point of view and refers also to metaperception, meaning the perception an individual has regarding someone else’s perception towards himself. Many painters chose to claim their origins, genders and sexual orientations but, in opposition to many of those artists, the social group to which I belong is privileged: I am a cis straight white man. This approach allows me to represent my own identity in a subjective way, contrasting with the artistic tendency to portray the cis straight white man in an objective way. “

– Vincent Arnold

For more information about Vincent, check out his Instagram and website.

Hi Vincent. Thank you for sitting down with me. First question, and I always ask this. How does a regular day look like for you in Sherbrooke?

Hi Ruben, the pleasure is all mine! On a normal day I wake up between 5-8 am, I like to take the time to have a cup of coffee or two before settling all my tasks and responsibilities so I can start painting as soon as possible until 7-11 pm. 

Cool, so with that out the way, what got you into drawing, which then developed into painting?

It’s a hazy memory, but I remember being encouraged at a very young age by my grandmother to draw, paint and do crafts of all kinds. However, I recently realized that my artistic stammering was based on a lie: When I was young my grandmother entered my brother and I in regional art contests that we won year after year. However, as adults we learned that she was entering us in categories younger than our true age, which gave us a huge advantage over the other competitors. So, because of this trickery, I thought for a long time that I had a remarkable talent when I was simply above average!  

Haha that’s hillarious. She had the best intentions though right. How old were you when she did that? And did it have any effect on you deciding that you wanted to become an artist?

I’m not sure exactly how old I was but having a brother almost three years older than me, I guess I must have been around 5 when I first entered this contest! Being an elementary school teacher I am sure she had the best intentions and knew the impact it would have on our personal development. These awards (even if they were hoaxes) gave me the artistic confidence that followed me throughout my youth. So, to answer the question of whether it had any effect on my desire to become an artist, I am convinced it did.

So while we’re on the subject. When did you realize that you wanted to pursue being an artist? How long has it taken you to develope your current painting style? And when did you know that it was the one.

My artistic journey has been a long and circuitous path. After high school, I decided to continue my studies in a Fine Arts program because I didn’t really have any other strong interests! Growing up in a French-only environment, my parents agreed that I could make this career choice simply because I would continue my studies in English. At the same time, I discovered graffiti and this new passion for letters influenced my choice to continue my studies in graphic design afterwards. Even though I always wanted to be a visual artist, I was told that it was not a “real” job, so in spite I became a graphic designer, illustrator and muralist. Nevertheless, these fields for me were very limiting and frustrating at times because of the importance of their functionalities and by the very dubious and conservative tastes of some clients. 

The haunting eyes and grin / visible teeth are a recurring thing. What’s the story there? Do they symbolize anything?

The characteristic that my characters often have open mouths is the result of multiple aesthetic choices. First of all, I like the repetition and rhythm of the lines and shapes created by a set of teeth. I later decided to remove the lips because of its reddish color and by being juxtaposed to the teeth, the mouth took in my opinion too much visual significance. Moreover, I like the contrast between these masculine and virile characters with disproportionately large eyes that reveal their moods.

I know that the characters in your paintings are involuntary self portraits. What’s the background behind that? I mean, what made you express yourself through your paintings?

As such most of my characters have no obvious physical similarities but they represent my personal anxieties and reflections. Furthermore, I find it difficult to conceive that art can be simply decorative and not express any personal feelings! In my opinion, art must be a testimony, an opinion on our current world.

Staying on the subject. Your pieces often describe some kind of scene, where something is happening. Are they experiences you’ve had or something you’ve visualized?

None of the pieces are literal representations of a previous experience. Each painting starts with a feeling that is broken down into multiple ideas. Very often these concepts end up combining and the staging choices are made to support the initial feeling. So my works are based on personal experiences but only in the content and not in form.

Your current exhibition (Lorin Gallery in LA), is titled “Hey Bro!”, and focuses on our perception of masculinity. Talk to me a little bit about why you chose that topic.

Like many people, I believe it is important to question traditional masculinity after #metoo and post-Weinstein. I’ve been questioning some of the ideas I had at a young age about my conception of masculinity and this show is a testament to that personal transformation.

When you say you’ve been questioning some of your ideas. What do you mean by that? And how does it come across at the show?

I grew up in a typical North American family where my mother did the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and took care of my brother and me while my father taught me many kinds of manual labor such as mechanics, mowing the lawn, cording wood before winter, etc. However, he also passed on to me the image that a man should be strong, protect those around him and never cry! Although I don’t feel any frustration towards the education that my parents gave me because I am aware that society has changed a lot since. It’s up to me to complete my own education. In the show we can discover a weightlifter whose tears are mistaken with sweat drops, a man holding a red flag, a character playing crossword with the theme of masculinity where he is unable to find the words such as affectionate, sweetness, vulnerability etc. Despite this, I approach this theme in my solo show by being careful not to take a moralizing tone.

One of your most preferred tools is an airbrush. How did you get introduced to it? And why does it resonate so well with you?

I started practicing graffiti when I was 17 and literally fell in love with the spray paint. I loved the speed and efficiency of this tool, not having to mix colors beforehand, not having anything to clean up at the end, that your body has to be in-sync with your hand movements etc. I bought my first airbrush when I was 18-19 years old because it was the closest thing to a spray can. At that time airbrushes were not as trendy as they are today and I didn’t know anyone who could help me find the air pressure problem with it. So, I tossed my airbrush around a bit before taking it out of its dusty box a few years later. In retrospect I think I like the airbrush so much because I am nostalgic about the years when I discovered the spray paint.

What do you hope that we, the observers take with us after viewing your paintings?

Preferably I hope that there is not too much of a consensus. That is, I don’t like works that try to persuade the viewer of a reality that is either black or white. I would like to achieve a more complex narrative nuance than the extremes. In other words, I don’t like to force the audience how to think and interpret my work. 

What motivates and inspires you?

I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to show my work in galleries that I love and therefore be able to work every day in a field that I am passionate about. So I remain humble and ultra motivated knowing that many highly talented artists do not have this opportunity. Even if it sounds clichéd, I am mainly inspired by life in general. There are undoubtedly many visual artists whose techniques, colors and compositions inspire me. However, for the content I prefer to be inspired by other art forms such as cinema, literature, podcasts, music etc. For example, I’m fascinated by the way Trey Parker and Mark Stone are able to approach very delicate subjects in a sarcastic way and still remain as relevant after 25 years of South Park.

What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?
This is a very difficult question for me since my tastes change according to my mood. Also, it’s much more natural for me to like a body of works from certain directors than to judge a movie individually. When I was young I was fascinated by the eclectic genre of the Coen brothers with Miller’s Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Later, I discovered the psychological complexity of Michael Haneke’s characters with La Pianiste, Funny Games, Caché and Benny’s Video. I appreciate Wes Anderson’s use of distinctive color palettes to shape each of his stories; the blue hues of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the warm hues of The Darjeeling Limited and the red Adidas tracksuit of Chas and his children in The Royal Tenenbaums. Furthermore, I am fascinated by the enigmatic side of Yorgos Lanthimos’ works with Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Favorite and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I guess my favorite film is among these many films.

Thank you Ruben for conducting this interview and I would like to thank my agent Matthew Kolansky of The Art Kollective and Dimitri and the entire Lorin Gallery team. 

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