Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting in 1952, writing that ''At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act— rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or 'express' an object.... What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.'' For Arne Hiersoux, American Abstract Expressionist and ''Action Painter'' 1938- 1983, life itself was this space. Hiersoux brought this no holds-barred spirit of creativity to bear in both his artistic and entrepreneurial pursuits.
The legacy he leaves behind chronicles both the artistic and business climates of this uniquely American period. Born in West Virginia, in 1938, to a family of accomplished chamber musicians, Hiersoux learned the value of art and the discipline required of a true creative. For Arne, the complete integration of art and life meant that he committed as fully to his paintings as to his business ventures, always layering and circling back to create something new, inspiring and enduring. From the beginning, Arne was given permission to make a career in the arts. In his youth, the family made a trip to New Mexico. Arne was profoundly influenced by this landscape. The openness and endless sense of space, to him, meant unlimited possibility.
The mysterious spirit of Native American's way of life, so different from his own, captivated the young man's soul. These influences led Arne to push the boundaries of man's relationship to the physical and spiritual world, both in art and in business. Arne spoke occasionally of a premonition of a short life, which may have contributed to the underlying drive for his tireless energy. In 1954, tucked away among the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, Arne attended a progressive high school, Verde Valley where he encountered a teacher, John Sandlin, who was inspiring, passionate, dedicated and dramatic. Sandlin introduced Arne to architecture. He challenged his students to think and not equivocate. The teacher's passion was infectious and helped to strengthen Arne's commitment to Art. In 1957, Arne moved to Berkeley and continued his studies at the University of California. Originally he was focusing on architecture as Frank Lloyd Wright had captivated him. Gradually he made a shift to painting, the media that seemed to suit his temperament, and became absorbed in Abstract Expressionism. DeKooning, Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis, were artists of note, whose works became points of departure. In a series of black and white paintings referencing Franz Kline, figures could be detected obliquely emerging through the expressionism of splashes and drips. The reference to ''figures'' appeared through out his work of the next few years. In 1962 at the Richmond Art Center, Arne exhibited a series of collages, using paper and acrylic on canvas. It was in show that he also began pushing the limits of size, with one painting stretching to eighteen feet. In the oil paintings shown in his one-man show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, in 1963, the figures became more defined and appeared to be carrying a burden, or possibly forming wings. A subsequent show at Mills College, 1966, brought together his figures and their abstract worlds. At the same time the grand scale and unusual shapes of some of these works evoked questions about the relationship of the physical life of the paintings, and their environment. In 1958 Arne married the love of his life, Catharine, a fellow classmate in high school. She too had made a decision to take a creative path when she first started to work with clay. Little did she know, at the time that it would become a successful career. To the delight of both parents, Mark was born in 1960 followed by Karen's birth in 1964. Arne's parents had provided the role model for a family integrated in its creative pursuits. Supporting his family was an omnipresent concern. He drove a truck, delivered mail, and whatever was called for. Finally, taking a huge leap of faith, Arne sought to apply his grand vision to the business world. In 1967,with his brother, Glen, an avid skier, Arne purchased a ski shop and expanded it into The North Face. They introduced the mountaineering division, developed product design and over a few months opened four stores. The brothers partnered well together, building a burgeoning business. Always in search of financial independence, Arne had finally found a way, he thought, to integrate love of the outdoors, his need for financial stability and his art. At the time Arne approached flying lessons with great enthusiasm, not knowing how it would affect his whole life and influence his art. He was so thrilled with the experience that he convinced Glen to learn to fly also. At this point in Arne's career, he had had four one man shows, completed his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Following graduation he accepted a lectureship, a rite of passage offered by the university to some grads. He also continued to run the North Face. Arne was awarded an artist in residence fellowship in 1969 for the following year at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. The University was completing construction of the impressive Annenberg School for Communications. As part of the opening Arne was invited to exhibit in the lobby his expansive and euphoric
Berkeley Park paintings. These paintings, impressive in their size, reflected his newfound love of flying – using poured paint, much like Pollock or Morris Louis. When the family returned home to Berkeley, California in late 1971, there was a much-needed pause to evaluate the direction of his life. By this time, Arne had sold his interest in North Face. On a lark Arne, Glen and their best friend, Ron Werner, bid on Governor Reagan's Twin Beech airplane...and were successful. The question was, what do you do with an airplane? Arne's answer was to start an airline. The three partners started ZOOM ZOOM AIR – a cargo airline. Everyone loved the name except the bankers. They traded the Twin Beech, which was too small to carry enough freight, for an old workhorse, DC3. Three months later, they were certified and the guys were flying short haul freight from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back each night. The airline attracted an array of characters, from old pilots who had adventure stories of WWII days to young pilots who loved to fly. There was a great deal of camaraderie. Again the creative threads were woven into the fabric. Over a seven- year period, the three guys expanded the airline from one DC3 to six planes. At one point there were 60 employees carrying freight to five or six cities each night. With that much work Arne had to stop painting. There were highs and lows in all aspects of the business and soon, a combination of airline deregulation, escalating fuel costs, and insufficient revenues led to the grounding of the airline. The partners had conflicting feelings of both sadness and relief, as the airline died. It had been an all-consuming endeavor. Unable to show the obvious measure of success of money or property, what remained was a letdown permeated with a sense of failure or defeat. It beckons the question, what is the measure of success? To back track just a bit, in 1972, as the airline was being launched, the project had an insatiable need for all available cash and energy. There was hardly room for another project, and yet, Arne was determined to put all the divergent activities under one roof. –As the saying goes, ''Be careful what you wish for.'' Arne and Catharine were excited about finding a building with potential. It was a stretch, but they proceeded to investigate, somewhat blindly the amount of work and money it would require. Across the street from where the family had lived was an 8,000 sq ft brick building that housed the remnants of an obsolete frozen meat business. With some serious negotiating and a little help from family, they purchased this ''new home'' and began the arduous task of transforming it into a workable space. It was a wreck. There was absolutely no resemblance anywhere to a house or even a livable space. Vision, imagination and faith was required to see beyond the rubble, tearing down walls, building new ceilings and floors. For that, Arne had the vision and could see the potential. It was a huge project by most standards taking nine months to become barely habitable. A working bathroom and kitchen appeared to be the standard of
measurement. That seemed a reasonable request. In order to keep all the labor- intensive endeavors progressing, the whole family was recruited to participate. Mark at twelve was already leaning about construction and Karen at eight was helping in the kitchen The building remains an on-going operation, housing Hiersoux Ceramics Gallery, a Luthier's shop, a Tai Chi Studio and several living spaces. In 1978 as the airline began unwinding, back in the studio the wheel was turning, gaining momentum, and picking up the slack. Catharine, an accomplished potter, had established a viable business, exhibiting and selling her work nationwide. Her career was boosted immeasurably when she received an unusual honor; the invitation from Rosalynn Carter, the wife of President Jimmy Carter, to make twelve place settings for the White House. This event increased the activities exponentially and put serious demands on the time and energy of the artists. It justified the importance of the building in providing living space, two working studios, and a gallery. After the tumultuous experience of launching, running and dismantling an airline, like a soldier returning from battle, Arne made a slow retreat to familiar territory. The excitement of returning home played against the fatigue and trepidation of what a long absence from the art world meant. The artist-entrepreneur returned to the sanctity of his studio. It was solace after the bruising by the corporate world. He began to work on a new series of prints entitled ''Re-Entry.'' Arne had chosen a format that combined multiple plates combined with innovative photo technology. The challenges that this method presented led Arne to seek the assistance of Stephen Thomas; a printer from Crown Point Press. Together they tackled some of the complex problems that arose. In addition to his own work, Arne assisted in the expansion of KALA, a lithograph- etching studio for working artists, which opened in 1980. He also joined Don Farnsworth and David Kimball in building a hand-made paper mill and print studio centered on a large lithograph press. Magnolia Press opened in 1982. Arne and Stephen joined with Will Powers to form a publishing company. The purpose was to make fine handmade books. The first book was based on a poem by Robert Kelly, ''Mulberry Women'' with dry points by Matt Phillips, published in 1982. That same year, Arne was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although the doctors initially thought he might live for another two or three years, he died a year after his diagnosis on July 16, 1983. The premature conclusion of his life demands even more strongly a vigorous embrace of the rich and multi-layered creative life that Arne lived in mid-twentieth
century America. His unique approach to the integration of art, business, family, living space, and invention...was unique to America in themed-20th century and his art remains both historical and prescient. ''The demon and I maintain a nervous watchful stance; taunt one another to remain focused at that point which is just beyond an elusive edge.'' Arne Hiersoux.