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NATALIE ARNOLDI: This Happened Here March 9 - 31, 2018


My first experience with Natalie Arnoldi’s large-format paintings impressed upon me the power with which they told a story. Natalie’s narrative -- told through murky, soft images on canvasses large enough to walk into -- drew me in, and I left the studio unable to shake the paintings from my mind. After a month of continually coming back to the images, I knew I had to show these paintings. -Charlotte Grey Jackson


This Happened Here As an artist I have always been interested in communicating strong emotional narratives in my work. In many of my paintings I use universal iconography to evoke scenes that are at once ambiguous and highly personal. One of my earliest bodies of work included paintings of old rail road tracks leading into the fog. To me, these works are at once melancholy and serene, representing an unknown journey and the legacy of railroads in this country which is so closely tied to the modernization of our society. However, a few years ago a woman broke down in my studio looking at one of my railroad paintings. She explained that her grandmother had been a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and that my painting evoked for her the moment when her grandmother arrived at that hell on earth. This experience made me realize the potential power of a painting and how capturing a particular place and atmosphere could generate a strong emotional connection with a piece of history. I began to do research on the Holocaust and found that I was drawn to historical images of spaces from Nazi concentration and death camps. The contradiction of these rooms, which are so mundane in appearance but are the site of heinous acts of cruelty, haunted me. Not only because of what occurred within them, but because as many of the last Holocaust survivors pass away, these places will soon be last physical relic of the largest manifestation of human evil in history. Although I am not a particularly spiritual person, I believe that places carry the feeling of past occurrences, and that a unique type of empathy can be evoked by inhabiting these spaces. My goal in creating these paintings is to generate that same kind of empathic experience. I recently travelled to Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. It is impossible to accurately describe how it feels to visit these places in person; they are devastating, humbling, and powerfully perspective-altering. Genocide is something we all know exists, but is often too distant or troubling to fully comprehend. Being in a place where countless people were stripped of their humanity and thousands of innocents were murdered forces you to confront the Holocaust and makes you question humanity and your own morality. Nothing can compare with the visceral, heart breaking power of visiting these places in person, but if I can convey even a small piece of that feeling in this body of work, then these paintings are a success. I am not Jewish, nor was my family directly impacted by the Holocaust, but this is a part of our collective history that we need to confront, especially now when our news cycle is so often dominated by stories of prejudice and so many in power tout narratives spreading fear and mistrust. I make these paintings as a human being deeply saddened and angered by what happened before and fearful of what will happen in future if we forget. I hope these paintings serve as a platform for remembrance and introspection. Each painting in this series depicts a real room in a concentration camp and their titles refer to the dates when each respective camp was liberated by the Allied forces. -Natalie Arnoldi, March 2018


Helix, oil on canvas, 55 x 65 inches, created by the artist in 2012

A few years ago a woman broke down in my studio looking at one of my railroad paintings. She explained that her grandmother had been a prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and that my painting evoked for her the moment when her grandmother arrived at that hell on earth.


April 29, oil on canvas, 102 x 96 inches, created by the artist in 2016

Dachau concentration camp (Konzentrationslager [KZ] Dachau) was the first large scale camp established by the Nazi regime and was operational from March 1933 until its liberation by American Forces on April 29, 1945. Located in Southern Germany, the camp was originally intended to hold an incarcerated work force of German political prisoners. Over time, other groups were imprisoned and murdered at KZ Dachau, including Jews, Jehovah’s witnesses, Roma (Gypies), homosexuals, and “asocials”. Throughout its duration, it is estimated that 188,000 prisoners were incarcerated and at least 32,000 died at KZ Dachau. Prisoners were forced to live and work in inhospitable conditions and constant fear of brutal and inhumane treatment. This painting depicts the entrance to the gas chamber at KZ Dachau. Brausebad, meaning “baths” or “shower” in German, was painted above the door to preserve the facade that the chamber within was merely for decontamination, rather than execution.


August, oil on canvas, 102 x 96 inches, created by the artist in 2016

Breendonk internment camp was established by the Nazi regime in a Belgian fortress outside of Antwerp, Belgium in August 1940. The camp held approximately 4,000 prisoners throughout the four years it was operational until it was abandoned in August 1944 as Allied forces approached. Several hundred prisoners were murdered by means of execution, torture, and inhumane living conditions. This painting depicts a torture chamber at Breendonk interment camp and is based on a photograph taken in 1944 and accessed from the United States Holocaust Museum Archive. The following notes accompany documentation of the room: “Note the table on which the prisoner was beaten [‌] The marks on the wall and roof indicate where a pulley used to be. Prisoners were strung up to the roof by means of a pulley -- sometimes feet-first, sometimes head-first. The pulley was dismantled by the Germans in August 1944.â€?


January 27, oil on canvas, 102 x 192 inches, created by the artist in 2016 Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp (Konzentrationslager [KL] Auschwitz) was established by the Nazi regime in German occupied Poland in 1940. The original camp, Auschwitz I, was situated on a former Polish army base and could hold approximately 16,000 prisoners. As the operation grew, the camp facilities were expanded to include two additional large camps, Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz), and several smaller satellite camps. At the height of the camp’s operational capacity in 1944, KL Auschwitz covered about 40 square kilometers and held an approximate 135,000 prisoners, comprising 25% of all people being held in the Nazi concentration camp system. Combining the labor camp organizational structure of KZ Dachau with the extermination methods of death camps like Treblinka and Belzec, prisoners were sent to KL Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau as slave laborers and to be murdered by mass extermination in gas chambers. During the camp’s 5 years of operation, an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered. The vast majority (1 million), of the victims were Jews. Other groups victimized include Poles, Soviet POWs, Gypsies, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, French and many others. Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945 by the Soviet Army. This painting depicts the gas chamber at Auschwitz I, where thousands of victims were murdered. Upon construction of much larger gas chambers at


Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, the gas chamber at Auschwitz I was no longer used. However, in the days leading up to the camp’s liberation by the Soviet army, SS officers destroyed the crematoriums and gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and no photographic documentation exists of these The international monument at Auschwitz-Birkenau built upon the ruins of Crematoriums II & III reads: Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, woman, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945 (image on following pages)


May 5, oil on canvas, 81 x 67 inches, created by the artist in 2017

Mauthausen concentration camp was established by the Nazi regime in Northern Austria in 1938 and was operational until its liberation on May 5, 1945. Originally housing male political prisoners transferred from KZ Dachau and, later, people from a suite of different groups including many Jews, Mauthausen was infamous for its brutal conditions. Over the seven years it was operational, more than 190,000 prisoners were held at the camp and it is estimated that over 90,000 people died there. However, because SS officers destroyed many of the camp’s records before it was liberated, it is impossible to determine exactly how many people were murdered. Like other concentration and death camps, KL Mauthausen used gassing operations, firing squads and other forms of execution, and many died of disease, starvation, and exposure. This painting depicts the entrance to the gas chamber at Mauthausen. The circular window in the metal door was referred to as the “Judas Opening� and offered a window into the interior room so that SS officers could monitor the suffering within.


A bleak concrete room lit by a single bulb. Empty doorways leading to empty doorways. A corridor, peeling paint, exposed ducts. Pipes, a sealed door. Even without knowing that each of these paintings references a real place – a room within a concentration camp – the quality of the colors, the unexpected mix of sharp and blurred, light and dark, create a visceral reaction. Something happened here. Natalie Arnoldi grew up in an artist household – a writer mother and artist father (Charles Arnoldi) - a kind of apprenticeship of daily life experience. She grew up studying her father’s decision making process in the studio, talking about art with her parents and their artist friends. Making the decision to pursue science in college and graduate school, focusing on Marine Science and Oceanography, did not separate her from the artistic life, however. She began to paint seriously while still in college. The two tracks, science and art, never seemed to contradict in her world, both are, in her words “creative problem solving.” Arnoldi’s style, however, is quite different from her father’s minimalist abstraction. She creates intensely emotional and evocative works through the use of ambiguous narrative scenes. Place is key. Early works depict the ocean, waves, undersea views of giant sharks, airplanes in cloudy skies, roads or railroad tracks in the fog, abandoned gas stations at night. Yet while place is so deftly conjured, conversely Arnoldi’s works contain a sort of edgeless, half-told quality. They create a sense of time by suggesting that this slice of a scene is in the midst of evolving or becoming – that something, whether it is a giant shark or a human figure – is about to emerge into this moment. The paintings are simultaneously both startlingly clear and sharp while also containing within them a fogginess – as if bits of the paintings are slipping into or out of focus. This quality carries over into these new works, based on concentration camp locations. The reaction of a woman to one of her early railroad line paintings keyed Arnoldi into the idea that in addition to eliciting a personal, emotional reaction, her works might also provoke a sense of a particular historical context. Beginning to do research on the holocaust, Arnoldi found herself drawn to images of the camps with their spare, utilitarian, mundane rooms and spaces and the incongruity that they suggested as the sites of such horrific events. As Arnoldi says, “The contradiction of these rooms, which are so mundane in appearance but are the site of heinous acts of cruelty, haunted me. Not only because of what occurred within them, but because as many of the last Holocaust survivors pass away, these places will soon be last physical relic of the largest manifestation of human evil in history.” The time seemed ripe for an exploration of this subject matter which seems to have lost none of its relevance to current events.


Just as in one of Arnoldi’s early paintings – where a shark’s fin, obscured by fog, seems to be disappearing back into oblivion – history, without witnesses to speak and breathe its stories, can become obscured, lost. History can become as sterile as those concrete and metal rooms, robbed of its human relevance. Arnoldi speaks to, and against, this loss, saying “When I visited Auschwitz and Majdanek, the Holocaust became real to me in a visceral and perspective-altering way that studying books and examining photographs could not convey. My hope in creating the paintings is to create a similar experience to witnessing the places in person.” The very scale of these paintings, mostly larger than body-scale at over 8 feet by 8 ½ feet to as large as 8 ½ by 16 feet, contribute to their visceral effect. These paintings are rooms. Viscerally, the viewer feels in her gut the walls, the press and weight of concrete. Sensations spark alive in the body in response: you can imagine the smell of metal and dust, a slight dampness, the cold of a wall beneath the palm. With their subdued palette of grays and beiges, austere lines, sparse and diffuse lighting, and that unique, quality of ambiguity – these paintings seem to create an experience of history itself – simultaneously disappearing and emerging in a cool, thin light. -Michaela Kahn, Ph.D


CHARLOTTE JACKSON FINE ART 554 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 | Tel 505.989.8688 | www.charlottejackson.com

Natalie Arnoldi: This Happened Here  

A solo exhibition of new work, "This Happened Here," by Natalie Arnoldi will open at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art on March 9 and extend throug...

Natalie Arnoldi: This Happened Here  

A solo exhibition of new work, "This Happened Here," by Natalie Arnoldi will open at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art on March 9 and extend throug...