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Being an artist these days, people tend to latch onto you. Its a cult of personality.

He
laughs. Maybe its the hair.
Palmer is quite the icon. I saw him most recently in the last Sunday Times, exiting the
annual Costume Institute Gala Met Ball with a pretty girl on his arm and that efferves-
cent, Polidenture smile on his face. Hes the kind of celebrity unique to New York: an
artist, an intellectual, a painter of all things. And unlike say Warhol or Pollock or
Basquiat, artists we consider endemic to New York, he doesnt seem the least bit gritty,
damaged, or addled. Maybe hes from a different time. The era of the new Times
Square, with its squeaky clean streets and Good Morning, America crowd. Or maybe
hes just an artist with a more solid constitution.
Not that a lack of demons has affected his art. His paintings have both liquidity and
punch, kind of like being knocked down and tumbled over by a powerful wave. Trying to
hang onto the conviction that youre an adult now, youre not going to drown. At worst
youll emerge with some scrapes and spitting salty water. Yeah, that kind of a punch.
His work has been called explosive, timely, and, memorably, Prozac-ian.
I wanted to create art that reminded people of what it felt like being alive. Not just the
sensual but the visceral. And to be happy about it. Im not the kind of artist that believes
in the merits of suffering, Palmer laughs. Palmers always laughing, at least in the time
weve spent together. And drunken at least a gallon of sweetened green tea.
I did literally live on this stuff at Roux. Tea fueled all-nighters! Not very debauched, I
know, but true.
During my first year, I had been messing around with inks, Sumi inks and blockwash
techniques, combined with the tag style I was seeing on the streets. It was very car-
toony and figurative. Over the years, the style has become more and more abstract.
Last year, I completed a set of drip paintings [titled Seaward Exit: Brighton Beach] and it
really freed me up to do more, I would say, languid work. And Im getting older. Theres
only so long that you can do that kind of young, hotheaded stuff.
Palmer is turning 30 this year; he can no longer rely on the notoriety that comes with
being a so-called Wunderkind. And he seems to have realized this on his own, putting
motions in place years ago that would lead him away from the camps of contemporaries
like Shepard Fairy and Banksy, a style expressed via nouveau rsistance paste-ups
and stencils. Palmers early work nodded at a different kind of graffiti anyway: wildstyle,
an approach where the message was more typographical than political, involving inter-
locking letters that, in Palmers case, spelled out incomprehensible messages. This is
Peachs war or Presumption faults presumption. Far be it from this reporter to puzzle
out the meaning, but Palmer says theyre mostly personal.
Like most of the country, I was angry after 9/11. But I couldnt channel that rage into
a concise political opinion. The hurt felt far more private to me. A lot of real street art
isnt made to protest the overreaches of the federal government anyway. Its more about
whats happening of that persons block.
Which is not to say I dont think theres a space for that kind of art. People should vo-
calize their opinions. Im just not that kind of artist. And I thought I could be more effec-
tive at channeling the unspoken. Sadness and rage, sure, but the kind thats not name-
able and in a weird way, thats sort of tied to joy. And all of these emotions are tied to
colors. Once you see that, start feeling in colorits almost like synesthesia, but I dont
really suffer from thatyou realize emotions cant be charted along a spectrum, but a
wheel. Were just spinning in it.
Like hamsters? I ask.
He laughs. Well, no. Maybe its more like a wheel of fortune. You cant always control
where the needle lands, but sometimes you can push it a little. And thats what Im try-
ing to do. Push people past their anger, to joy.
Joy. Palmer says that word a lot. You would think hed led a charmed life. But in fact it
was less charmed than cursed.
Arnie Palmer grew up in Bed-Stuy, or Bedford-Stuyvesant, in the heart of Brooklyn,
which experienced the brunt of the casualties from the gang wars, waged from the
1960s until quite recently. In the late 80s, when Palmer was still a preteen, he was con-
scripted on behalf of the Lo-Lifes as a lookout. He doesnt like to talk about it, but ap-
parently he witnessed some pretty nasty stuff.
I dont like to draw attention to it, he said. I feel like that particular story is played
out and distracts from my work. You know, homeboy makes good, goes from shiftless
criminal to responsible member of society. There are plenty of people that follow the
same path out of a bad neighborhood. You just dont hear about them. I got extremely
lucky with my scholarship to Roux, but I also earned it.
Which brings us to this article. Im a proud graduate of Roux, Palmer says. It was at
RAA I found the mentors I needed to take my work to the next level. It may sound pat,
but its true. I dont find that I can think and paint in a bubble. And certainly, as a stu-
dent, the more inputs you have, the better. The best thing about Roux is that everyone
wants to be there, everyone wants to help everyone else achieve their best. And living
in such a tight community, inspiration can come from some funny sources.
I remember sharing a dorm room with this metal shop dude and he was describing
his work to me in these oddball colors. I mean, he was working with steel, but in his
mind, it wasnt grey. It was colored by everything around them and hed get excited by
the idea of moving this massive sculpture, were talking ten feet high, into new spaces,
just so he could see how it would take on new colors. And that got me thinking about
light and reflectivity in a different way.
And Arnie Palmer is not Rouxs only successful or even most successful graduate.
Thousands of our students have gone on to thriving careers in graphic design, anima-
tion, architecture, fashion and design, and yes, fine art. Its nearly impossible to walk the
streets in New York without bumping into a former classmate, Arnie says, and because
theyre in such different fields, he might not have gotten to know them any other way.
But instead, it will be like hey, so-and-so, architect of X, or a guy that does 3D ani-
mation, and I can invite them out for a cup of coffee and we sit and exchange infor-
mation and are really interested in what each other have to say. I guess its coming from
an environment that encourages openness and collaboration. Nothing hard and fast has
to fall out of it. Youre just sharing ideas. Being generous with them. And sometimes
those shared ideas manifest in unexpected ways. David Giuetta [architect of the new
Pegasus headquarters] emailed me the other day to say he took credit for the lines in
Straight and Narrow, a painting of mine he saw in the Getty. Palmer laughs. I wrote to
him and said, well then, Im taking credit for the Pegasus.
It is in the spirit of generosity that he has decided to sponsor this years Working Artist
Scholarship, where one Roux alumnae personally mentors a selected student, as well
as helps fund their education here at Roux. After he volunteered, we asked if hed be
willing to star as our quarterly graduate profile and offer a few words to our students and
prospective scholarship candidates.
Dont give up the joy, he says. Once you transition to the real world, the art scene,
an office, or something else, there can be a lot of pressure to renounce or forget the
wonder that is part of the creative process. Hang on to that. Roux is not a shelter; you
can recreate and carry the experience youre having now with you everywhere.
And he laughs. Again! I tell him hes going to have to stop that or people arent going
to take him seriously. Or maybe theyll just take themselves less so. I came from a
great place at Roux, but Im still excited about where Im going.