“There was a lot of surface work—it was important to me that it retains a more classically sculpted quality, with tool marks,” he says. “Things that are carved by the computer have a colder, more manufactured look. I want to see the hand of the maker.” Arkin’s Picasso is indeed expressive; his oversized dome, smooth and bald, resembles some mix of a bobblehead and an Occupy Wall Street protest puppet. He does not look too happy, gazing off into the middle distance at some unseen irritant.
It’s been a journey to get to this point. Arkin, originally from Miami, moved to New York City in 1983. He made a name for himself with realistic figurative sculptures—occasionally comic, occasionally grotesque—made of colored polymer clay. He also moonlighted on the commercial side. Arkin fell in with a crowd of artists surrounding Broadcast Arts, a production company that made commercials, among other things. He contributed animation work for the first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and rented a studio from the company in Lower Manhattan where he could pursue his own creative work.
“People were always hanging around,” Arkin says of the firm’s freelance stable: artists like
, as well as Mo Willems, who would go on to write the classic cautionary tale for children, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
After success with galleries in the 1980s, Arkin’s career faltered following the art market crash in 1991, yet he kept plugging away. Often, he would tell himself: “It’s time for you to give up art and get a real job, please, you’re in a ridiculous world. Nothing is ever going to work.” Future successes were modest and sporadic, but enough to keep Arkin inspired and afloat. He dabbled in real estate and, for a short time, produced art history-related jewelry (tiny renditions of ’s Kiss,
snippets of ’s Starry Night