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Malibu native's gallery offers impressive underwater painting
As a woman entered the largest room at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills on Thursday, July 7, she stopped briefly and expressed a sense of wonder at what she saw inside.
“This is a shark tank in here,” the woman said. “Wow.”
On the walls inside the 50-foot-wide room with ceilings about 20 feet high hung life-size oil paintings of great white sharks. The pieces were part of a new exhibition of work called “Below Sea Level” by Malibu native Natalie Arnoldi that will appear at Ace Gallery until the end of August.
Arnoldi’s work is the result of a marriage between two of her passions: oil painting and marine biology. After high school, Arnoldi attended Stanford University and earned a bachelor’s in marine biology and a master’s in ocean science.
During her time in college, she worked in a lab that placed satellite tags on great whites and tracked their movements. Last fall, while working in the same lab, she regularly came face to snout with 15-to-18-foot great whites. Then something clicked.
“I had this idea of creating these lifesize portraits of great whites, and I came home and I made them,” Arnoldi said.
The giant paintings depict actual living sharks that Arnoldi has studied, she said. Other paintings in the exhibition included pieces depicting crashing ocean waves and jellyfish. Arnoldi also showed smaller paintings of various ocean landscapes.
The majority of Arnoldi’s work in the exhibition included misty or cloudy layers shrouding sharks or ocean landcapes in her paintings. Arnoldi said that effect has a purpose.
“I find it really fascinating to create a figurative painting that is almost borderline abstract,” Arnoldi said. “The idea behind that is giving the viewer enough information to place you in a specific time and place, but leave enough ambiguity that you have to fill in that blank on your own.”
Arnoldi grew up in Little Dume, spending her entire childhood in Malibu surfing, tidepooling and being in the ocean, she said. Her first encounter with sharks came at a young age when she would see hundreds of leopard sharks — which are about 4-5 feet long — while looking over her surfboard.
“That had a very profound influence on me at a young age,” Arnoldi said. “From the time I was about 8 years old, I wanted to be a shark biologist. That’s all I wanted to do.”
All that time spent in the ocean at Little Dume and in Malibu — where there are many creative people and lots of nature — contributed to Arnoldi finding her two passions.
“It got me involved in the ocean both in an aesthetic way and in a scientific, analytical way,” Arnoldi said. “I think Malibu was very influential for me in being both an artist and a scientist.”
Arnoldi said that while she is currently only involved in creating and showing art, she is looking into PhD programs so she can go back to school.
But her dream, she said, is to find a way to work in both ocean science and art at the same time.