Logo: National Gallery of VictoriaHeader: Education Resource
Howard Arkley

Questions and Activities

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Exploring the exhibition

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for secondary schools

Exploring subject matter

Arkley explored a range of subjects during his career. What evidence can you find of this in the artwork in the exhibition? Identify the major subject themes in the exhibition and give two examples of each.

Suburbia emerged as a strong theme in Arkley’s work. Based on your observation of the works inspired by suburbia in the exhibition, explain what aspects of the suburban landscape and experience you believe most interested or inspired the artist and why.

What aspects of the suburban landscape or experience are not included in Arkley’s images of suburbia? Suggest why the artist may not have been interested in these aspects of suburbia. (Consider for example why Arkley’s images of suburban homes do not focus on back yards.)

Why are Arkley’s images of suburbia devoid of people and cars? How might the presence of such elements have changed the meaning or mood of the artworks?

Exploring art and design elements

Choose two artworks in the exhibition that demonstrate the different role that colour played in Arkley’s work at different times. Describe and compare the use of colour in each artwork, explaining how it contributes to the visual effects, mood and meanings the artworks communicate.

Identify a work where you believe line plays an important role in the work. Describe the use of line in the work and explain why it is a significant element in the design of the work; ie how does it contribute to the visual effects, meanings, feelings the artwork communicates?

Find an artwork that interests you in the exhibition and identify the art elements (colour, shape, line, tone, form and/or texture) that you feel are important in this artwork.
Explain how each of the art elements you identify has been used, and what it contributes to the visual effects and meaning in the artwork.

Discuss the representation of three dimensional space and form in an artwork of your choice. What evidence can you find of the artist using different techniques (such as perspective, overlapping, scale) to suggest three dimensional space?

Exploring materials, techniques and art practice

Identify two or more techniques and/or tools that Arkley has used to create the paintings in the exhibition (eg paintbrush, airbrush, stencils). With reference to particular examples, explain what visual effects the artist has created using each technique/tool

The following quote offers an insight into how Arkley constructed many of his images of suburban interiors and exteriors:

"Starting with preliminary rapidograph pen drawings, sourced from outmoded photos from glossy magazines or real-estate brochures, Arkley would outline the composition of exterior or interior, project the crisply defined drawing directly onto the canvas, and then paint the broader areas in flat colour. Later he would tape smaller cut-outs or stencils onto the canvas, suggesting textures and patterns, which became integrated into the overall picture. The trick from there was to balance lightness with the oppressive density of the visual data. With their fuzzy, dreamlike quality and tonal after–effects, the airbrushed lines stylised the final look of the painting. The results were always exuberant: ‘I like the fact that the imagery looks like it’s printed; it looks like a reproduction of a painting, rather than a painting."
Quoted in Ashley Crawford and Ray Edgar Spray: The work of Howard Arkley Craftsman House, Sydney, 1997 pp. 14-15

Find a painting in the exhibition where you can see evidence of the working methods described above. Explain whether you believe this painting reflects the techniques described in the quote.

Arkley was interested in how he could remove "the hand of the artist" from the surface of the canvas. What do you think he meant by this, and do you think he succeeded in doing this? Discuss with reference to two or more works in the exhibition.

Identify and discuss two works in the exhibition that demonstrate how Arkley challenged conventional approaches to making art, and developed a highly individual style.

Explore Primitive 1981

Image: Howard Arkley, Primitive

Look at Primitive 1981. Arkley explored many new ideas in relation to technique and subject matter in this painting. Based on your observation of this and other works in the exhibition what evidence is there to suggest that Primitive is seen as significant to Arkley’s development.

Explore Blue Chip Instant Decorator: A Room, 1990

Blue Chip Instant Decorator: A Room was created in collaboration with the artist Juan Davila. What ideas does the artwork communicate to you and how? What shared interests do the artists appear to have? What evidence can you see of each artist’s individual style?

Exploring meanings, messages and other ideas

Arkley’s work often makes direct reference to Melbourne suburbs. How might local, national and international audiences respond to it differently? Consider subject matter and art elements.

Study several paintings that focus on images of suburbia. What evidence do you think there is to suggest that Arkley was celebrating the suburbs? What evidence is there to suggest that he was ‘critiquing’ suburbia?

What significance do you believe the titles of the artworks have? Discuss with reference to two or more examples

Arkley was often inspired by music. Select a painting in the exhibition and discuss what style of music might have inspired it and why.


NGV: Art like never before