Eddie Arning American, 1898-1993


Eddie Arning grew up in a Lutheran community in Germania, a small rural town in Midland County, Texas. In his youth, he suffered from severe bouts of depression and anxiety and was later officially diagnosed with dementia praecox, more commonly known as schizophrenia. Arning spent the next three decades in several mental institutions. His development as an artist began late in life, when he was in his mid-sixties, when a hospital worker encouraged him to draw and provided the necessary materials. At first, he completed several coloring books; then he began depicting isolated forms—flowers, animals, musical instruments, and tools, among other autobiographical subjects—in wax crayon on paper. He soon began to take inspiration from printed media and pop culture imagery in ads, photographs, and magazine illustrations and started working with Cray-Pas oil pastels, which expanded his color range and imbued his shapes with a supple, weightless look.

Arning’s mature works are sophisticated, compact arrangements where no part of the -surface is left untouched and his bold grasp of color and composition are fully developed. Arning created flat pictorial spaces (exteriors and interiors) where stylized human figures appear within multiple frameworks. A heightened awareness of balance and rhythm suffuses even his simplest subject matter with mystery and magnetism—as the different shapes and pigments gracefully weave in and out of each other with the utmost economy.

Between 1964 and 1974 Arning created more than two thousand works that make up his oeuvre. After this decade of inexhaustible productivity, for refusing to abide by the rules, he was asked to leave the facility in which he resided. He moved in with his widowed sister, but the change permanently disrupted his creative momentum. When his sister could no longer care for him, he moved into a nursing home, where he died at age ninety-five. Since its debut, Arning’s work has appeared in a number of exhibitions, including a yearlong solo show at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia (1985)—one of the many institutions that own his work. His work is also in the permanent collections of the American Folk Art Museum (New York), the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago), the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.).