Paul Arsenault, Paul Arsenault: My Journey as a Painter. Banyan Arts Social and Pleasure Club. 156 pages. $65.00.
To suggest that artist Paul Arsenault has led an improvised life may risk implying that his path has had no direction. That’s not it at all. Mr. Arsenault’s life has themes, goals, and – though perhaps less than some of our lives – plans. Still, he has been open to chance, and that openness has paid him and all of us back in astounding measure. Travel being a defining necessity throughout his career, this curious wanderer has traveled from one place to another, always ready to seize an unexpected opportunity, ready to improvise the next step when connections bog down or money runs low. He has bartered instant (or nearly so) paintings for a room at the inn.
What for some is “playing it by ear” is for Paul Arsenault playing it by eye and by intuition. Like the speaker in Theodore Roethke’s great American poem “The Waking,” this determined artist might say, “I learn by going where I have to go.” Some call it living in the moment.
The impression on the beholder of Mr. Arsenault’s paintings is of viewing vistas caught in the moment. Often enough, and with deliberateness, his paintings capture seaside villages, quiet but colorful neighborhoods, and architectural specimens on the edge of change. There are no contemporary cityscapes. No portraits. There is the interweaving of nature and culture. Mostly, Mr. Arsenault’s canvases hold “nature methodized,” as Alexander Pope wrote, the tamed nature of human habitation. The garden more often than the wilderness. In his paintings, Paul Arsenault is a conservator of what might be gone tomorrow.
Because he has made his home base in Naples, Florida since the mid-1970s (with plenty of roving around the world), Mr. Arsenault’s paintings of Naples and Florida in general are well known in his community. What his entrancing new book offers, both for him and for us, is an opportunity to absorb and measure the broader achievement: New England (with homage to Gloucester and Nantucket), many other North American locations, the Caribbean (his stories of Dominica are marvelous), the Pacific islands, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and Indonesia. More recently, he has done his work of preservation through art in Hawaii, where he and his wife Eileen have another home.
What the book has done for its author, I believe, is to reacquaint him with parts of his own story, elements of his legacy, with which even he had partly lost touch. He is excited about what the long journey has added up to so far, and that excitement has energized the future. In allowing his story-telling to frame the paintings, the painter-author has reengaged with them and rebalanced his identity as a creator. . . .
To read this feature article in its entirety, along with an excerpt from Mr. Arsenault’s book and a sampling of his paintings, see the January 24, 2013 Naples Florida Weekly: Florida Weekly – Arsenault 1 and Florida Weekly – Arsenault 2. It also appears in the Bonita Springs edition, but without the illustrations.