Logo: National Gallery of VictoriaHeader: Education Resource

Howard Arkley


Icon: Print Version


"It’s where 95 per cent of Australians actually live – they actually don't live out in the desert… Australians get my work straight away… They understand that they're not being put down either – it's not satirical."

Page 5 Carnival in Suburbia, The Art of Howard Arkley, John Gregory, British TV interview 1999, Venice Biennale

Arkley strongly supported the idea of collaboration and was involved in several joint projects with his contemporaries including the painter John Nixon. They tended to succeed or fail depending on how far the other artist was prepared to be flexible in their practice – Arkley preferred an open approach where the unexpected could develop. He also took part in the 5AR exhibition at Melbourne University in 1986, which combined pairs of architects and artists, and where Arkley worked with Howard Raggat.

His large scale 3D installation Blue Chip Instant Decorator: A room, 1990, created with the artist Juan Davila, was his most celebrated collaboration and is now in the collection of Benalla Art Gallery.

Although fundamentally different in their ideas, both artists were meticulous in their approach to making art and yet understood the important role chance can play in a collaboration. The work, driven by the spirit of surrealism, features two painted suburban domestic interiors hung behind constructed furnishings. It references art history, mass media and pop culture. The sofa on fire quotes René Magritte's surreal painting The Discovery of Fire, 1935, and a real mirror painted with a fake reflection is a direct allusion to the American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's mirror series. Ephemera sourced in a Melbourne Chapel Street shop combine with images of a prehistoric animal and an inflatable cat to create a playful, witty and bizarre atmosphere.

The artists’ work sets up an edgy and yet exciting tension where Davila’s confrontational, politically driven ideas collide with Arkley’s fascination with mass culture. Their distinct pictorial styles; Arkley’s stylised imagery and Davila’s illusionism add to the sense of friction in a work which satirises corporate investment in art and the demand for ‘blue chip’ artists whose work will match the interior decorations in a modern office.

The collaboration was invigorating for both artists and influenced their subsequent practice. Davila created further installation works and increased his use of stencilling, while for Arkley it led to a greater and more detailed focus on suburban interiors.




NGV: Art like never before