“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made,” wrote German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Sonoma artist Chester Arnold makes this quote come alive in his latest exhibition, “Trees,” as he explores the effects of industrial consumption, environmental degradation and waste through the lens of the humble tree.
In one large-scale oil painting, Arnold captures an ominous and majestic oak caught up in a whirlpool of papers and trash; the oak appears engaged in an epic wrestling match with the human detritus, and the darkening sky in the background makes it seem as though they’ll all be sucked into an atmospheric netherworld. In Crooked Timber, a conquered oak lays on the ground like a fallen hero, one heavy limb pinning down a crushed tin roof, as though the viewer has stumbled across a final scene of battle.
Raised in post-war Germany, Arnold’s paintings have an apocalyptic feel, infused with the particular dark intrigue of end-time destructions. As Arnold told the Bohemian in 2003, “Manifest destiny led us here, and now our destinies manifest in what we’re leaving behind us, the devastation we’ve created.” Don’t miss this chance to see Arnold close to home and at his finest in “Chester Arnold: Trees,” running June 9–Sept. 9 at the Sonoma County Museum. Reception, Saturday, June 9, 5–7pm. $15 nonmembers. 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. 707.579.1500.