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Robin van Arsdol, R.V. American Urban ArtistRobin van Arsdol, R.V. American Urban ArtistRobin Van Arsdol (born 1949 in Denison , Iowa ) presents an interesting study in how personal, educational, and political influences can shape the style and content of an artist's work. As a child of the 1950s, VanArsdol shares with an entire generation the anxiety of impending nuclear holocaust. Learning to "duck and cover" was as much a part of his education as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Growing up in the South, he was exposed to the fervor of religious painters and grew to understand the plight of the common man. He came of artistic age when the climate was rich with various influences, sharing with a number of artists of the 1980s a return to realism to communicate specific ideas. 

His early educational experiences were rich and varied. As a student at Georgetown College in Kentucky in the early 1970s he absorbed the philosophies of abstract expressionism through a professor who had had direct connections with New York in the 1950s. An awareness of Joseph Kosuth, Allan Kaprow, Andy Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg led VanArsdol to do his own form of "installation art." He was practicing "process art," a conceptual art form where the making of the piece dictates its visual identity and can be as important as the final result. Through books and magazines, he was introduced to the dadaist notions and antiart stances of Marcel Duchamp and Kurt Schwitters, ideologies that would form the core of his later art. 

After finishing college in 1973, the artist moved to New York City where he continued doing installations and process art. His early work explored ways of taking art beyond the frame. In one work, he stamped one, two, three, etc. with a grocery stamp, expanding across the paper, the frame and onto the wall and gallery. As the numbers were repeated, they became less dense. This repetition of images owed something to minimalists Carl Andre and Robert Morris, artists who had a stronghold on artistic thought of the day. He expanded on the ideas of process art by painting a silhouette of a tool and then working the surface with the tool depicted. VanArsdol was supporting himself as a carpenter and his use of the tools of his trade can be seen as one of his earliest uses of art as an autobiographical statement. 

By the late 1970s, an undertow of a different style was rippling through the art world. Led primarily by Neil Jenney, this movement advocated social commentary through "bad painting." The idea behind "bad painting" is a naive sensibility. It draws the viewer in by its painterliness, but is so crudely rendered that one questions its validity. This use of agitated paint that conveyed an underlying meaning marked the beginning of a significant change in VanArsdol's work. 

In 1978, VanArsdol moved to Orlando, where he began painting large-scale murals. That same year saw the first graffiti exhibition in New York, and exhibition featuring the "tags" or signatures of young artists who were working on the streets in the Bronx. 

This move to Orlando brought up childhood memories of Southern religious painters. These artists conveyed specific messages, functioning as ministers by painting and preaching damnation. During the following two years, VanArsdol created hundreds of paintings and drawings that built on his earlier art, particularly "bad painting." but incorporated the messages of these Southern naive artists. Returning to New York in 1980, he found the art community resistant to these changes and it was difficult, if not impossible, to get anyone to look at his work. Inspired by the graffiti artists who were painting their "tags," VanArsdol developed his own tag, that of "Bad Jet," and left his mark all over town. "This was," the artist notes, "in direct response to how everyone was treating me. Even if they refused, I was going to make them look at me." 

By 1983, graffiti had moved from the simple tags of anonymous artists to paintings with imagery. VanArsdol returned to the city with a truckload of paint and painted over 2,000 murals in six months. The size would vary, sometimes covering an expanse of 10 by 40 feet, but the message was very explicit: anti-war and anti-society. Although he identified with the graffiti movement, it was only one aspect that fed into his main interest, that of free public art. 

The paintings, drawings, and sculpture in this exhibition offer insight into VanArsdol's personal cosmology and include motifs and symbols that comprise his mature work. They span the years from 1982 to 1992, a period of ten years during which the artist became increasingly more interested in drawing, particularly on handmade paper, and in sculpture.