At 8, he also learned that he was adopted.
Those twin realizations immediately inspired him. Emboldened by the first, stung by the second, he vowed that henceforth he'd be his own person, independent and self-reliant. "I made a deal with myself. I'd take no money from them," he says of his quiet rebellion with his parents.
He sold newspapers. He mowed lawns. He ran a gas station. To pay his way through college, he started a sign business, which he later parlayed into an advertising and marketing agency. On weekends, he painted and sculpted.
|Frank Arnold, framed by ancient wood door from Guadalajara|
At 8, Arnold and his family were living at Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley. One event of the local fair was a flower-arranging contest. He entered it, and his arrangement won a blue ribbon. "I just liked color a lot. I couldn't believe how beautiful colors could be," he recalls.
At around that time he learned rather off-handedly that he'd been adopted. "I was reading a newspaper, and an article had the word 'adoption.' I asked my mother, 'What's adoption mean?' She said that that's what happens when someone can't take care of you. I asked her if I knew anyone who'd been adopted. She said, 'You are.' I thought the way she told me was really rude," Arnold says. "My (adoptive) mother often was sick. She didn't care for me. My father was a truck driver who wasn't home a lot. We were semi-poor, so I was kind of on my own already when I made that deal with myself to be self-sufficient."
Since then, the number "8" has stood for his signature on many of his pieces. "That's me," he says of the number. "It's a loving number for me."
He's never met his biological father, who was in the U.S. Coast Guard when he was conceived. He met his biological mother when he was in his 30s, and they're grown close.
|Frank Arnold with his painting "The Wiz"|
The walls of the gallery are hung with his large canvases, most of which feature a tall, lean and solitary figure, their faces sketchy. They can be ghostly, yet also taut, conveying tension and power. His colors can range from muted to luminous, and at times the oils are applied so thickly that ridges emerge in relief from the flat panels. His paintings have been likened to the figurative works of the late Stanford University abstract expressionist Nathan Oliveira, and in Arnold's takes on guitars and dogs can be sensed the hand of Pablo Picasso, but he says he hasn't drawn inspiration from anyone but himself. "I never paid attention to anyone. I did my own thing," Arnold says.
As abstract as they are, virtually each painting is autobiographical. He refers to them as an entry in a diary, a chapter from his past or present. "They're stories about my life. I daydream while I paint, and go with that. They can be whimsical, painful, ironic," Arnold says. Family members will figure in this or that painting, sometimes via secret codes he etches here and there. He figures he's gone through four periods so far. One dwelled on mother and child. Another sprung from past incidents in his life. Nowadays he's focused on current events. "They're my stories," he says of his paintings, "but other people often bring their own stories to the paintings. The paintings trigger something in their own lives. Women especially break down and start to cry. They've lost something or someone, a love or a spouse."
|Frank Arnold's "Cabo Bird"|
The more carefree paintings tend to spring from his time in San Jose del Cabo. Paintings completed in Fresno are more structured, he says. "Life in America is more structured, more regimented, tighter," Arnold says. "You can mark every day in America by something stressful that happens to you. Here, the days float away, life disappears faster here; there are no stress points."
Born in Long Beach, Arnold spent his formative years in Visalia and Bakersfield before his family settled in Fresno. He graduated from McLane High School in Fresno in 1969. Five years later he earned an associate of arts degree in art at Fresno City College. He continued to study art at Fresno State College, but dropped out to teach art at night school in nearby Clovis. When he discovered that he both didn't like teaching and wasn't particularly good at it, he went into marketing. On weekends, away from his ad agency, he sculpted and painted "for fun." Before long, his artwork had made him "semi-successful."
|Decanters of tequila await guests at Frank Arnold's gallery|
He will stay in San Jose del Cabo a little longer than usual this spring, primarily to see what develops when the G20 summit convenes in the town's new conference center in June. The gathering is to draw hundreds of finance ministers, presidents, diplomats and other dignitaries from the world's most prosperous economies. He doesn't know or even care whether he will sell any art during the conclave, but he has a hunch that he will get at least some beneficial exposure.
Aside from that, the compound he's built and the lifestyle he's created have worked out just as he envisioned when he thought of them more as fantasy than realistic goal. "I wanted a studio where I could work and a gallery where I could sell. I wanted a pretty simple life, and I think it has happened. I didn't expect to be a Fresno boy selling paintings to people from New York and Chicago in San Jose del Cabo. I've been blessed."
|Frank Arnold's gallery, San Jose del Cabo|