Arco's interests seemed boundless
Since 1982, I’ve been living in midtown Sacramento, California, a bohemian pocket of Victorian homes, family businesses, mom and pop grocery stores, art galleries, nightclubs, bistros, coffeehouses and gay bars. Perhaps the of hub of midtown is by the corner of Twentieth and K Streets.
At one of my own midtown, backyard parties, I met Arco Tung-Sol one hot summer’s night in 1986, when the planet Mars burned so large and bright that I thought it was a UFO following me from place to place. Was this apparition of the red planet the dawn of a new era? For me it definitely was, because becoming Arco’s good friend certainly enriched my life in the coming years.
When Arco arrived at my party he seemed very polite and courteous, especially with the ladies. Tall, lean, clean-shaven and topped with mop of thick, short blonde hair, Arco, at 49, was about 14 years older than me. Because of this age difference Arco seemed an avuncular figure, and once we began talking it soon became apparent that we shared many interests.
We certainly hit it off, as they say; in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a man with whom I’ve had more in common. Also, Arco seemed very interested in what I was doing with my life, which I found very flattering. In fact, almost every time I saw Arco, he told me how appreciative he was of my friendship. How many people do that with their friends?
From that point until Arco’s death in April 2003, Arco and I always had something to talk about.
I soon discovered that Arco was an artist, primarily a painter and sculptor, though I soon learned that he was capable of doing just about anything in the realm of fine art, commercial art or merely the artsy-craftsy. Amusingly, whenever somebody uttered the word “artsy-fartsy” to Arco, he winced as if poked with a stick.
Also, Arco could draw just about anything he had ever seen or imagined, a feat which impressed me greatly. Incidentally, he was left-handed, which I found intriguing. Left-handers use a different side of the brain than right-handers.
Furthermore, Arco, like many artists, was very good with his hands. He seemed able to do just about anything with tools, even repair cars (including the body work), tasks which I find very difficult, if not impossible. But to call him a handyman would definitely be an understatement. Marcelle Wiggins, Arco’s third wife, said that Arco could fix or build anything. As far as I could tell, Arco was a mechanical genius.
By the way, Arco’s birth name wasn’t Arco Tung-Sol. On February 20, 1937 he was named James Hargrove Gibbs, born in a boxy, white, antebellum house on Gibbs Road in Cherokee, Alabama. At the age of 17 Arco moved to California in 1954. Over the years, Arco was married three times and fathered five children, two boys and three girls.
Marcelle Wiggins, also an artist as well as a college professor, told me that Arco changed his name in 1975, when she and Arco lived in Leucadia in San Diego County. Arco was a reference to the well-known chain of gas stations and Tung-Sol referred to a kind of storage battery that Arco saw at one of these stations.
“Arco, like the arena?” people would ask when they first met Arco. (For many years the Sacramento Kings played at Arco Arena, now called the Power Balance Pavilion.) “Yes,” Arco would answer very seriously, never making a joke about it. He seemed to find his name very important, but not to the point of being pompous. Incidentally, I usually greeted him by saying, “Arco, me bucko!” This was an allusion to pirate talk, I guess. You know how guys are with their silly male bonding routines. Ha!
During Arco’s life, he worked as a surveyor in Palo Alto, California. He also worked as an art director and typesetter for newspapers, made electrical parts and constructed cabinets.
Arco began working as an artist in 1960. At an art show in San Diego in 1972, Arco described his style of painting as “pararealism.” In the late 1990s, he told me his style was called neo-Abstract Expressionism, a contemporary spin on the work of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.
Arco painted primarily in oils and acrylics on canvas, paper or wood. Some of his paintings were realistic depictions of animals, particularly bees and horses. He also painted people, of course, especially female nudes, for which he definitely had great talent. One large work of his on paper shows a naked blue-eyed blonde shooting a curl at some beach in Southern California. Arco always favored blue-eyed blondes! For a time, Arco lived in Southern California, where he would often hang five or ten, while gawking at the beach babes, I'm sure.
A friend of Arco’s named Myke Smitely had this to say about Arco’s fascination of nude women: "He and I loved 'naked ladies' in the same way. Other than my brother, Jan, Arco is the only man I’ve known who could truly appreciate nude females with that particular focus: naturally and thoroughly appreciating them as erotic delights in a man’s reality, and simultaneously appreciating them deeply as sacred vessels of Universal Yin in a soul’s reality—this spiritual perception being experienced as a keenly felt aesthetic and poetic appreciation touching awe and bordering reverence. Over the years he occasionally shared with me how a particular nude painting came into being, and his deep perceptions of Universal Yin are shyly hidden in each one."
But the artworks I enjoyed the most were Arco’s “cosmoscapes,” as I called them. These abstract vistas of time and space were mesmerizing, as well as “psychedelic,” as many people back in the 1960s and ‘70s may have called them. These paintings resembled depictions of space vistas, complete with fluorescing gas, frothing clouds of plasma, scintillating hot white stars, gamma ray beams and shooting rogue asteroids. Arco’s passion for astronomy was definitely evident in these pieces. One of them, my favorite, had a purple velvet curtain in it. What this curtain meant I’m not sure, but I definitely found it fascinating!
Sculpture was also a specialty of Arco’s. He would construct a metal armature and mount it on a wooden plank, and then use Bondo (the same kind used for body work on cars) and other materials such as plaster or Styrofoam, and then assemble these pieces into futuristic spacecraft, alien creatures or surges of energy, and finally spray on a layer of paint. These were sometimes comprised of two or more pieces assembled into a whole. (See the black and white photo of Arco with one of his prized sculptures.)
Arco also produced mixed media works mounted on wooden panels and designed to be hung on the wall. I called these “cosmic eyes,” because Arco usually placed an opalescent, eye-like orb in the middle of each; he often used metal grid work on these to great effect as well, creating an overall futuristic look that was fun to contemplate.
And his metalwork didn’t stop with small grid work. Using iron rods, Arco built statues as big as an adult man. There were stylized statues of men in humorous poses, one of which had an erect, retractable “member” for humorous effect. At times, Arco had a bawdy sense of humor.
Arco was greatly influenced by science fiction and fantasy. Many times, when Arco and I would get together and have a few beers, I would cajole Arco into doing pencil and paper sketches of sci-fi scenes based on some of the screenplays I was writing at the time. One of these sketches I labeled “The Magnificent Seven,” a photo of which is included in this article. I also paid Arco $20 apiece to produce posters for some of the jam sessions my friends and I had back in the 1990s.
Regarding music, Arco played some acoustic guitar, mystical-sounding stuff with the instrument tuned to D. But he mainly liked to beat on drums, getting his “ya-yas out” as he called it. For this purpose, Arco made his own drums, using steel barrels to which he affixed drums heads, complete with tension screws and bolts for tuning the skins. They didn’t sound bad for homemade drums. We certainly had many high times playing with Arco’s drums on Friday or Saturday nights!
Arco and I often ventured to the Second Saturday Art Walk in Sacramento. Galleries in the Sacramento area, particularly downtown and midtown, opened their doors to the public, showing the works of local artists, sometimes offering free food and drink. Arco certainly appreciated the free libations, a bibulous fellow he definitely was!
Arco’s last abode was a two-bedroom house near Thirty-Sixth Street and Second Avenue in Oak Park. This house was crammed with much of the stuff Arco had collected over the years. He must have had half a dozen TVs, including one I had given him, as well as boxes of tools, electronic devices, magazines, books, musical instruments, building materials, appliances, art supplies, auto parts and a little bit of everything else. I figured Arco had forgotten at least half of what he had there.
Certainly a man of many interests and passions, Arco had a particular interest in ancient history and archaeology, mainly as these related to the Mycenaean Greeks, Mesopotamia, the dynasties of ancient Egypt and Mesoamerican cultures, particularly that of the Maya.
Relating to the Maya, when charged with sci-fi imagery, Arco and I liked to imagine Mayan-like pyramids on Mars, where chimerical creatures battle laser wielding commandos and spaceships strafe armies of “bugmen” scurrying up stairways. Ha! We had so much fun doing this, I can't begin to tell you!
Late in life, Arco suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition which got so bad that he had to have his left shoulder replaced. After the operation, Arco struggled for a year or more to learn how to draw and paint again, but he finally managed it, producing a little more artwork before his eventual exit from this plane of existence.
Arco also had severe back trouble for which he took strong pain killers, enabling him to walk for a block or two at a time, a situation he enjoyed very much, because he didn’t like staying home all the time, much less languishing in bed all day or night. After all, he was indeed a bon vivant!
Then on April 18, 2003 Arco was found dead by a nurse who had been looking in on him from time to time. He was 66 years old. An autopsy showed that Arco had little in his system at the time of his death except Pepsi. Congestive heart failure was listed as the cause of death.
Arco Tung-Sol should be remembered as a man who loved art, science, literature and the female body, though not necessarily in that order. Moreover, he enjoyed exploring the universe by both looking through telescopes and also creating art that revealed his inner landscape in a provocative, sometimes humorous way. He was a multi-talented man, certainly a genius, and one who never lost his thirst for the unknown.
I miss Arco very much and hope to once again experience his spirit face-to-face.
Oh! As for Arco’s dark side – and we all seem to have one of those – he once told me that “women are evil.” Arco also suffered from bipolar disorder, which may have been responsible for some of his manic highs and self-effacing lows. And two of his favorite curse words were “fuck-o” and “shit-skee.” For cussing, I always liked those two!
Please leave a comment.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you know if any of Arco Tung Sol's artworks are for sale?
Answer: I have some of his work, but it's only the lower level stuff. His really good paintings and sculptures are scattered around Sacramento and elsewhere. It would take awhile to find them, and I wouldn't do that for free.
Question: Did Arco sign his work in capital letters ARCO?
Answer: Arco signed his work using a special character of his own design, at least that's all I ever saw him use.
© 2010 Kelley Marks
Rich Fesler on August 02, 2020:
Arco and I hung out in Sacramento back in the 80's. Interesting fun fact...in the movie "Richie Rich" (1994) there is an odd looking exercise bike in the background. (chrome/tubing/curves) Arco claimed that was his design that was stolen from him. (I saw his concept sketches myself.) See you on the other side my friend!
Larry ficks on August 25, 2019:
Jim(Arco) lived with me and my ex-wife for 4 months in 1968 painting and pre-paring to move in his van to Demar, California to work for Pshychology Today magazine. An amazon man and a wonderful friend. He was about 32. He gave me a Victorian Gothic looking house painted in Santa Clata, Ca. Thank you for such a wonderful overview of his life. Larry
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 01, 2016:
Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. From time to time, I add what I can to this article. By the way, I'm one of Auriel's friends on Facebook. Later!
Cheryl on June 30, 2016:
I just reread this article. It is a beautiful tribute to Arco and very well written. Thank you! This is the first time I've read Auriel's comment. Lovely.
I have one of Arco's paintings of the rolling hills of Southern California hanging above my bed. It was previously displayed above his refrigerator in the abode you describe.
BTW, I'm Arco's eldest daughter.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 01, 2011:
Thanks very much for the comment, Auriel. It's certainly very impressive hearing from one of his daughters. How have you been? Anyway, I hadn't heard about him painting the rolling hills in southern California, although he certainly mentioned his surfing down there and the beach babes. Hey, he painted so much! Later!
Auriel on June 30, 2011:
Life After Arco
It's been eight years since Arco has passed and I still have a large portion of his ashes. Because I was unsure what to do with him, I placed him in a plastic bin among his boots, the ones fashioned with multicolored anklets. Here he sat until a few months later when I figured it was time to take him to South California where I would attempt to locate the sea of rolling hills which he often painted in the late 80's. I've been there twice now and still can't seem to part with him. He has been sprinkled on land, in the water, in a friends backyard, has been mistaken for a bomb and cake mix, and has sometimes been worn in a necklace. I'm not sure what it is, but even in death it's as if he's not done. I would love to hear your thoughts and/or ideas as I only knew a small part of him.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 16, 2011:
Thank you very much for the detailed memoir, Rebecca. Since you were Arco's second wife, are you the so-called opera singer? Anyway, Arco certainly had great artistic talent, and it seems it came to fruition in the 1960s when Arco was in his late 20s to early 30s. I wish I could have seen him in those days. What a trip he must have been. Thanks again for the lengthy comment. Later!
Rebecca on May 16, 2011:
I met Arco in a music store in Long Beach, CA, in Dec. of '62. He'd already heard about me from a friend; in fact, I missed meeting him a month earlier by 5 minutes. On our first date, we walked long blocks to the beach. A fortune teller at the amusement park (the Pike?) said he'd make me famous in our youth, I'd make him famous in old age. Hmmm. We walked the beach in the dark, talking, of course. My shoes were not comfortable. We came to a log. He politely invited me to sit, so I did; on a nail! I had to get a tetanus shot the next day! This was but the first of many warnings I ignored...a week later, he said, 'as far as I'm concerned, we're engaged.'
The theater company that had brought me to CA got a booking at the Ranch Club in Palm Springs for the winter and wanted me back. I said I'd go for two weeks, to give them time to find a replacement, for the whopping sum of $300. By the end of my first week, Arco was there. I planned to return to my folks in Jackson Hole and decided he could come along and meet my folks if he got a first and reverse gear in his beat-up, '50 Ford...
We drove out into the 'desert' outside Palm Springs, walked awhile, climbed up on a huge boulder and talked 'til the stars came out. We climbed down in pitch black...while s-e-a-r-c-h-i-n-g for the car, we came upon an old fellow playing his violin around a campfire!
Well, I have many memories of Arco, since we married in Jackson, WY in January.
The pic of Arco hugging his plaster sculpture was taken in our backyard in SLC in '67. He was a natural sculptor, but he labored long and hard to master painting, because the images were 'beating on the back of his brain'. For the first 3 years of our marriage, I didn't know if he had any serious talent: his paintings weren't great, his nudes had anatomical problems...in '65, we lived on a short street in Los Altos that had no sidewalks; pepper trees trailed branches; our cottage was chocolate brown with a persimmon red porch; the gnarled limbs of a fig tree in the tiny front yard...one day, Arco brought home scrap lumber, wire mesh, plaster powder and a 6-pack of beer. Two more 6-packs later, he had built a 12-foot high unicorn in our front yard. It was beautiful. magical. Especially at night!
Thanks to money I inherited, he was able to take 2 art classes at the U of Utah in 1967 sculpture from my father, and anatomy. His anatomy 'book' was awesome, like Michelangelo. This was the point at which he emerged as a painter.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 28, 2011:
Hello, Angela Esposito, I remember seeing you at the party in Shingle Springs in May 2009. Anyway, I remember Arco fondly too. As of April 2011, he died eight years ago. And I've missed him just about every one of those many days. Invite anybody else who loved Arco to read this story and leave a comment, okay? Later!
Angela Esposito on April 28, 2011:
I too miss Arco! I remeber being very young when I first met Arco. I always loved hanging out with my Father's artist friends, and the conversations I had with Arco were very unique and will be treasured in the best of spaces in my mind! I always knew I was a very lucky young gal to have shared the space of not only Arco, but many other amazing artists that should be recognized as the main element of Sacramento's rich art culture. It pisses me off the way he went...peace and blessings to those who knew Arco and cared:)My Father Luke Esposito misses his buddy Arco very much as well!
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on January 05, 2010:
An interesting look at an artist of whom, I admit, I've never heard, but one who obviously left an impact. I normally would not have left a comment on a subject of which I know so little, but as a fellow sufferer of RA, his plight caught my imagination. Thanks for this insight into the life of this artist.