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Howard Arkley


Icon: Print Version


"Howard's work was accessible and enjoyable and has been described variously as quirky, moody, passionate and rigorous. Both the artist and the man struck a special chord in the hearts of so many Australians in a way that few artists - maybe Nolan, Boyd and Whiteley - did."

Ron Radford, Chair of the Council’s Visual Arts/Craft Fund and Venice exhibition Commissioner, 1999. (Currently Director of The National Gallery of Australia)

Howard Arkley was a colourful and extrovert character and those who knew him were charmed by his warmth and exuberance. He was highly respected within the Arts community for both his distinctive oeuvre and the rigour with which he pursued his practice. Regrettably he had a fragile nature which led to a drug dependency, eventually causing his death in 1999. Arkley did not advocate drugs and worried about the effect knowledge of his drug use might have on younger artists. He is known to have said:

‘If you know anyone who’s on drugs or wants to take drugs bring them round here to meet me. Because after I've talked to them they’ll never do it’

To friend, page 213 – Not Just a Suburban Boy, Edwina Preston, 2002

Arkley worked intensely on a variety of familiar themes in the last two years of his life. He was at the peak of his career and achieved considerable success both in Australia and internationally. In 1999 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Nick Cave for The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. This dazzling mask- like and theatrical image, which conveys the aura of rock stardom, has since become one of the gallery's signature images.

In the same year he represented Australia at The Venice Biennale, held his first highly successful one-man show in Los Angeles, and had accepted commissions from the National Gallery of Victoria and the Melbourne Festival. Howard Arkley pursued his art with a passionate intensity. His inventive eye cast a refreshing and exploratory light on the suburbs, in contrast to the cynical and deprecating manner with which it had often been viewed in the past.




  • Carnival in Suburbia, The Art of Howard Arkley, John Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2006
  • Spray: The work of Howard Arkley, Ashley Crawford and Ray Edgar, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1997
  • Not Just a Suburban Boy, Edwina Preston, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2002



NGV: Art like never before