Arne Charles Besser, an internationally renowned artist, died last Thursday at Southampton Hospital. The cause of death was heart failure, said Duke Morell, his partner of 47 years. Mr. Besser was 77.
Born on May 11, 1935, in Hinsdale, Ill., to Henry Besser, a bank owner, and the former Irene Jackson, he graduated from high school in nearby Downers Grove and then went west to attend art school in New Mexico. He also trained at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, under the tutelage of Lorser Feitelson, an artist who, said Mr. Morell, is credited with inventing the “hard-edge” style of painting.
Mr. Besser was stationed in Alaska while serving in the Army, and liked to regale his companion with tales of long nights in a sleeping bag in below-freezing weather.
“I first met him selling magnificent paintings for $150 on the corner of Fifth and 14th Street,” said Mr. Morell, who was so impressed that he opened a gallery solely to feature Mr. Besser’s photorealist works. “It didn’t take long for his paintings to begin to fetch thousands of dollars.”
Mr. Besser and his partner divided their time between the city and the East End from the mid-1960s to the early ’90s, when they decided to move to Amagansett full-time. “He loved this house,” Mr. Morell said. “It’s only right that I spread some of his ashes in the backyard, where he spent lots of time.”
Inspired by John James Audubon, Mr. Besser applied oil to canvas to capture a variety of scenes, from edgy street-life portraits to buildings, landscapes, and animals. “When Arne painted a cat, that cat lived in the canvas,” Mr. Morell said. “You could just about pluck its hairs off.”
Mr. Besser’s work has appeared in galleries throughout North America and Europe, including the Smithsonian, said Mr. Morell, adding that he suddenly stopped painting 10 years ago, and “I’ll never know exactly why.”
Donations in Mr. Besser’s name can be made to the Animal Rescue Fund‚ where the couple adopted a much-loved dachshund, Ruby, at 90 Daniel’s Hole Road, Wainscott 11975.