Edgar Arceneaux: Not a Cliche


By Laura Gatewood

Arceneaux is the director of the Watts House Project, described as an "artist-driven urban revitalization initiative" centered around the famous Watts Towers in South Central Los Angeles, pictured above.

Resisting the pull of the tortured soul cliché, painter Edgar Arceneaux has managed to attain both artistic and commercial prominence while also taking up the mantle of community service as director of the Watts House Project in South Central Los Angeles.  His often conceptual artwork explores themes of memory, perception, and how the established social and cultural values can undermine realities based on logic and truth.

Graduating from California Institute of the Arts in 2001, Arceneaux has had solo and group exhibitions at the Hammer Museum in 2003, Galerie Kamm in Berlin, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in 2006, and the Whitney Biennial in 2008. His work will be also be included in the upcoming California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art next month. Currently on view at Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles is Arceneaux’s intriguing solo exhibition titled Correlations and Isomorphisms, which includes large-scale installations and works on paper until October 25th.

For the past ten years, Arceneaux has also been director of the Watts House Project, an endeavor described as an “artist-driven urban revitalization project” that is centered around 107th Street’s historic Watts Towers, seventeen interconnected steel and mortar structures built and decorated with mosaics by

Italian immigrant Simon Rodia between 1921 and 1954. According to the website, the mission of Watts House Project is to “develop an incremental, nuanced and sustainable model that marries ecological concerns and practice with social and cultural remedies. The neighborhood surrounding the Watts Towers presents a stark contrast to the well-maintained aesthetics of this national monument, and currently the residents have limited means to capitalize socially or economically on this cultural currency. By creating a physical and social infrastructure for creativity, WHP will catalyze artistic production and community pride of place, forming partnerships that can lead to real solutions, hope, and change.”

The marriage between creativity and community espoused by Watts House Project is indicative of Arceneaux’s fundamental motivations and is a note-worthy departure from the usual stereotypes attached to the word artist. Arceneaux is a painter to follow not only for his brilliance with a brush but for his innovative use of talent as a method to revitalize an undernourished community through the power of art.

One Response to “Edgar Arceneaux: Not a Cliche”

  1. It has been a rough start to the new millennium, and sadly art survey shows have failed to reflect the context in which art makers and viewers live. Thankfully Lauri Firstenberg of LAXART has remedied the disconnect with the 2008 California Biennial. She also appreciates the uniquely Californian context where the artists themselves are fabricated: those degree-granting factories that employ a mix of working artists to assemble the next generation of art makers from bits of theory, activism, beer, and art supplies.


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