Fly Bird, a Lake Street shop known for its assortment of quirky items, recently held an opening reception for its first art show, which is somewhat surprising, as the store is a work of art in itself. “On Paper,” which opened the beginning of January, features a series of abstract paintings by local artist Jim Arnoldt. This also happens to be Arnoldt’s first solo show and as the title suggests, all the pieces in this series are paintings on paper.

Combining layer after layer of radiant color, Arnoldt creates depth and complexity in each composition. The series mingles wonderfully with the interior of Fly Bird itself. One of the paintings seems to mimic the adjacent furniture, adorned with brightly colored floral patterns. Arnoldt chose displays the series in chronological order. He began the first painting in 2001 and the last was completed only weeks prior to the opening, demonstrating the progression of his work, which reveals an clear transition point halfway through the series.

In the first half, Arnoldt combines intense colors and methodic strokes to form a dramatic array of simple recurring forms, some of which echo the works of Gustav Klimt, Chuck Close and Lee Krasner. Other paintings conjure images of trees blossoming in the spring or a prairie meadow with glints of sunlight gleaming off insects as they buzz through the muggy air. One piece in particular looks like an urban starry night, stars replaced by neon glow, or window-lit skyscrapers.

My favorite piece, displayed above the cashier’s desk in Fly Bird, is a mosaic suggesting the visual sensation of a rainy summer night through a car window, the rear lights of cars reflecting off the wet asphalt and blotchy spots of light glinting through lines of water droplets on the windshield. You can almost hear the wish-wash of windshield wipers. Though Arnoldt intended this piece to be much more two-dimensional, I was transfixed by the way the layers of color seem to veil the background.

On first glance, the paintings seem straightforward and easy to digest. Yet as you take in each piece, the patterns create a pixilation effect that causes you to step back to bring the full image into focus. Arnoldt creates this effect through his careful choice of color and the many layers in each composition. He uses acrylic paints in part of the series, which can be a difficult medium in terms of texture, but there is subtle depth in each stroke, which adds dimension to his work. Arnoldt says he wanted to study the relationship of color and manages to combine them harmoniously.

The second half of Arnoldt’s exhibit takes a dramatic turn from the earlier work. A few elements carry over, but a new technique and overall feel surfaces. It still draws on the use of brilliant colors, but is less multi-dimensional and lacks the intense definition of shape and form that is so captivating in his earlier work. In these paintings, Arnoldt transitions from the use of acrylic paints to mixed media, including oil-based paint, magnesium and etching techniques. Arnoldt even scrapes away at the paint in places, revealing a previous layer, which gives the illusion of weathered paint on a seaside cottage. He also moves from warm to cool colors in each work and emphasizes this transition with a subtle use of line.

Although the later work is technically more impressive and shows greater maturity, I enjoyed the earlier work more. It’s fresh and has a certain playfulness that invites you to dive into each piece, pulling me in to uncover what is just beneath the surface.

“On Paper” is on display at Fly Bird, 719 Lake St., through Feb. 10.

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Evan O'Brien

Evan O'Brien is the content manager of Soon after Evan was born in Chicago, his family moved to Oak Park for the same reason that attracts people to the "World's Largest Village" today: the...