Eddie Arning grew up on his father’s farm in Germania, Texas, about fifty miles northwest of Houston. Bouts of depression and anger eventually culminated in an attack against his strict Lutheran mother. He was briefly hospitalized following the incident. After being committed to a mental institution for a second time in 1934, he was diagnosed with so-called dementia praecox (more commonly “schizophrenia”) and remained in treatment for thirty years.
Like many other self-taught artists, Arning was introduced to art by a member of the helping professions, in this case a teacher employed by the hospital. In 1964, the teacher offered him wax crayons, paper, and coloring books. Their flat, restricted forms shaped his visual sense. His ability to master more complex arrangements of figures, colors, and patterns grew rapidly, as did his repertoire of materials and images. Arning’s early works appear to have been autobiographical, but he later took inspiration from newspaper stories, magazine photos, advertisements and other popular material. He eventually began to work in oil pastels, with which Arning lent a soft, glowing, almost floating quality to shapes.
After he was released from the hospital, Arning spent his final decade in a nursing home, where he continued to work, turning his room into a studio. He produced nearly a drawing per day, and gained a significant local reputation. In 1973, however, he was asked to leave the nursing home because of his refusal to abide by its rules. Arning went to live with his widowed sister, but he ceased drawing altogether. “That’s hard work,” remarked an aged Arning. A long-established creative and physical equilibrium had been disturbed.
Raw Vision article by Pamela Jane Sachant (Issue #28)