Renaissance Man

Arnold Chanin has always had a keen talent for spotting up-and-coming artists and creating art—of all kinds—himself. Now he is sharing the fruits of his lifelong labors with the world.

  • Category
    People
  • Written by
    Hadley Hall Meares
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

“He is absolutely a renaissance man,” Raine Chanin says of her husband, the artist and family physician, Dr. Arnold Chanin. She stands in the garage of their beautiful home in the Encino Hills, which Arnold has used as a studio for decades, watching as he rifles through over 60 years of artwork. “There’s nothing I haven’t worked in. Nothing,” he says. “Assemblages, watercolors, acrylics, bronze sculpture, ceramic sculpture, reliquaries.” His favorite medium is oil. “You can study the work and go back to it,” he explains. “Oil forces you to not be in a hurry.”

Being in a hurry is not Arnold’s nature. He is a great lover of process, of observation—and most importantly—learning. Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, he became a photographer as a teen and studied painting and design at Carnegie Mellon before transferring to Antioch to study fine art and teaching. He taught art across the country and also worked in jewelry design and portrait photography. Arnold then returned to school to get his MD in 1965. “When I became a doctor, I didn’t have to kowtow to anybody,” he says. “All my art projects—my painting, my photography—every one I financed myself.”
Arnold found a kindred spirit in Raine. Together they befriended (and Arnold photographed) many of Southern California’s most prolific modern artists, including Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Ynez Johnston, and Gordon Wagner. “We had belief in them, and very few people had belief in Southern California artists,” Arnold explains.

“There’s nothing I haven’t worked in. Assemblages, watercolors, acrylics, bronze sculpture, ceramic sculpture.”

The couple began to build a prolific collection. “We discovered that artists are the most generous, wonderful people in the world. We were in the ‘60s, newly married, and we didn’t have two nickels to rub against each other. However, we started buying artwork and we paid it off,” Raine says. “It was an exciting time. It really, really was. We had an empty house, no furniture—but we had artwork.” Many of these artists and their families became Arnold’s patients, including the assemblagist and printmaker Betye Saar, who paid for her children’s visits to Arnold’s practice in artwork.

Most impactful from a creative standpoint: Arnold became close to the abstract expressionist Gustav Burkhardt, who had settled in SoCal. “It was love at first sight,” he says. Arnold would study with the Swiss-born artist for more than 20 years and credits him with, among other things, teaching him how to prepare canvas.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, the couple began to donate their impressive artworks to various institutions across the country. Arnold’s own work appears in several collections, including the Huntington Art Collection, Orange County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institute.

Although the Chanins have given much of their collection away, their warm home is still filled with vibrant art. Some is the work of Arnold; others are from his famous friends. Every night, Arnold, who still practices medicine, can be found creating in his studio garage, where he once set up little easels so that his children could paint alongside him.

Arnold creates works incorporating the things he loves: anatomy, medicine, classical music—and Raine. He is currently reworking a series of abstract pastels he began 40 years ago in a weekly artists’ group led by Burkhardt, in the basement of MGM studios. “It’s done when you can look at it anytime in the front hall,” he says of his pieces, “and the light is right, the balance is right.”

No, Arnold Chanin is never rushed. But he is always busy.

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