The singular vision of Australian artist Howard Arkley (1951-1999) developed throughout a career spanning three decades. This retrospective represents comprehensively the evolution of Arkley’s oeuvre from the early 1970s to the final major works with which he was represented at the Venice Biennale in 1999.
Howard Arkley is popularly conceived as the foremost painter of Australian suburbia. His signature houses and domestic interiors and fascination with vernacular, quotidian experience, however, were produced always in dialogue with his preoccupation with abstraction, patterning and the slide between two and three dimensions. Arkley’s paintings, painted sculptures and installations collapsed distinctions between abstraction and representation, and questioned certain utopian aspirations – whether it is the suburban dreams of home ownership or the functional design of modernist furniture and architecture. Arkley’s literally spectacular pictorial abstraction involves a slippage between the real and the model, between utilitarianism and decoration, and between the elevated and the commonplace.
Arkley’s visual lexicon of houses, furniture, decorative schemes and optically turbulent patterns drew on his abiding interests in the architectural and the sociological. This retrospective examines, in depth, the influences and milieu that inspired Arkley – punk music, the club scenes of the 1970s and 1980s, fashion, feminism and masculinity, and the volatile art world itself. The retrospective surveys Arkley’s work through the developments of abstraction early in his career, the evolution of figuration and iconographic register, and the continual tension between representational and abstracted images of the landscape, the home and suburbia that fuelled his imagination and lines of sight.
Howard Arkley was particularly influential on his peers and on a younger generation of artists with whom he interacted as a teacher and mentor. He was a quiet but essential presence in the Melbourne art scene. For almost thirty years he produced some of the most idiosyncratic and iconoclastic art in Australia. Using a range of techniques from the commercial airbrush to conventional artists’ tools, Arkley’s work attracted and balanced critical and commercial success, professional and popular appeal. This retrospective of Howard Arkley’s work assesses and celebrates his singular contribution to the history of twentieth century Australian art.