Drawing, line and design

  • Experiment with mark making, using a felt tip pen and the elements and principles of design. Include line, shape, colour and pattern.
  • If you were selected to paint a tram today, how might you design it? Mock up to scale an image you think would be successful.
  • Design your own chair using your favourite artwork as an inspiration.
  • Try your hand at a giant doodle. As Arkley did when he worked on Primitive, start in the top left hand corner, and try to fill the whole page without stopping. You could try this with felt tip pen, and colour in with pattern and texture.
  • Draw a room based on the interior of your house, and decorate it with line, colour and shape using a diversity of patterns. You may find inspiration in home decoration magazines.
  • Draw the outline of a pot plant or portrait, and divide it into shapes. Fill in this drawing with decorative patterns.

Photography and new media

  • Take a photo of the exterior of the house in which you live, or cut a picture from a real estate magazine or newspaper. Copy or trace the outline, reducing the image to black and white. Collage it with decorative papers or add other effects with colour and pattern.
  • Take a digital photo of your house. Scan in the image using a computer, and using Photoshop or an alternative program, experiment with colour and effects to create your own Arkley-like image of suburbia.
  • Take a series of photographs, for example of gates or doorways. Concentrate on decorative effects or repetitive patterns on the exterior of houses or other forms of architecture. Use these to create your own artwork.


  • Find an image of an object that you like. Draw the outline, cut this out to make a stencil, and using paint from a spray can, shade it to make this image three-dimensional.
  • Arrange a collage of furniture cut out from magazines, to produce your own decorative interior.
  • Use fabric or other domestic textile materials, and experiment with a series of small collages to create an abstract pattern with an emphasis on repetition.
  • Create an artwork from mixed media using elements of popular culture.


For Primary schools

Exploring subject matter

  • Make a list of the different subjects that Arkley includes in his artworks. What do you think he found interesting about each of these subjects?
  • Look at the many different paintings of houses. What aspects of these houses do you think Arkley is most interested in? Why does he not paint back yards, and why does he not include people in these paintings?
  • Of all the different places that Arkley describes in his paintings, where would you most like to live and why?

Exploring art materials and techniques

Arkley used many different materials and techniques to make his art. Find an example of:

  • A painting made with an airbrush. Explain how marks made with an airbrush differ from the marks made with a traditional paintbrush.
  • A painting made using a stencil. Describe the effect the artist has created using a stencil.
  • A three dimensional work. What materials has the artist used and how, to make this artwork? How is this work similar to or different from the artist’s two–dimensional artworks?
  • An artwork made with another artist. What clues can you find that Arkley might have made this with another artist? Why might Arkley have enjoyed doing projects with another artist?

Exploring Primitive 1981

This was a very important painting for Arkley. He explored many new ideas in this painting.

  • How do you think he made this painting (consider materials and techniques)?
  • What can you see in the painting?
  • What might have influenced how this painting was made and what it is about?
  • How does Primitive compare with the artworks made before 1981?
  • How does Primitive compare with the artworks made after 1981?
  • Why do you think Primitive was such an important painting for the artist?

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 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 that demonstrate how Arkley challenged conventional approaches to making art, and developed a highly 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

Further research and discussion

Colleagues and collaborators

The early working relationship Arkley shared with Elizabeth Gower was very important in the development of this career as an artist. What are some of the shared concerns that you have discovered in the work of both Arkley and Gower?

The artist Jenny Watson also painted suburban houses, most notably the Box Hill series of houses she had lived in. Compare the house as a theme in the work of Arkley and Watson, and note some of the similarities and differences.

An individual style

Arkley’s work as an artist evolved over a career that spanned more than 27 years from his early exhibition in 1972 until his death in 1999. What are some of the commonalities of ideas, concepts and themes Arkley developed over this time?

Inspiration and influences

The Surrealists were the first to consider the impact of the subconscious mind in the hands of an artist. Arkley demonstrated this approach through the process of producing the work Primitive. Do you think there are other surreal factors in Arkley’s painting? If so what do you think they are?

Research the following artists/art movements, and consider how they might have inspired or influenced Arkley:

  • Albrecht Durer
  • Fernand Leger
  • Paul Klee
  • De Stijl Movement and Piet Mondrian
  • Keith Haring

Arkley was passionately interested in Popular Culture. Explore what aspects of popular culture influenced his work, and how.

Interiors and exteriors

Collect examples of some of the source materials that inspired Arkley, including drawings from real estate advertising, interior design books and magazines, and shopping catalogues. Why might these images have inspired Arkley, and how did Arkley use them in his work?

How have representations of houses and interiors changed over time?

Why have drawings of houses disappeared from Real Estate advertisements? How might houses be advertised in the future?

Australian suburban life

Compare and contrast a work by Arkley with that of another artist inspired by aspects of suburban life, eg Elizabeth Gower, Robert Rooney, Jon Campbell, Constanze Zikos etc…

Research the work of architects Peter Corrigan and Maggie Edmond. What does their work have in common with Arkley’s oeuvre?

Arkley’s Legacy

Read the Arkley’s Legacy section of this website and write your own statement summarising the impact of Arkley’s practice on contemporary Australian art.

Recently, the long–running Australian television series Neighbours introduced an opening image influenced by Arkley. What might this suggest to you about the relationship between art and the wider world, and the influence of Arkley’s work?

The role of a gallery in supporting Arkley and his career is significant. Research the history of Tolarno Galleries, and the importance of the relationship Arkley had with its founding director, Georges Mora.

Arkley undertook collaborative projects with other artists of his acquaintance, including Juan Davila. Explore the impact of these collaborations on Arkley and his collaborators

Visual analysis: Cityscape 1990

Arkley’s urban imagery of factories, freeways and cityscapes was often exhibited juxtaposed with his images of his better known suburban houses. The factory series was inspired by the visual stimulus of comic book illustrations and in particular a short story first published in 1974 by the Australian writer Peter Carey. In the story, people are drawn to shadows with nightmarish connotations

Rich sources of material, including Arkley’s own photographs, have been collaged together and drawn over, and collaged again repeatedly to become final paintings composed of various elements of inner city smoke stacks, industrial sites and machinery.

  • What are the dominant colours in the picture?
  • How does the selection and use of colour add to visual impact, meaning and mood in the picture?
  • In what ways does the text in the work influence how you interpret it?
  • Arkley’s suburban landscapes have variously been described as celebratory, threatening, or sinister. What is your personal interpretation of the mood and meanings in Cityscape? What is it about the artwork that suggests this mood and meaning?
  • Many factors can contribute to the meanings viewers find in an artwork, including world events or issues. How might current concerns related to the environment or terrorism influence the meanings that viewers today find in a painting such as Cityscape?
  • Compare Cityscape with a view of the city or an industrial landscape by another artist. ( For example L S Lowry, Peter Booth, John Brack and Jeffrey Smart.) What different ideas does each work communicate and how? How does each artwork reflect the time and place it was made?

Visual analysis: Superb + solid ,1998

Superb + solid,1998 is an iconic example of Arkley’s distinctive airbrush style, developed over twenty years of experimentation. This painting depicts the exterior of a suburban house. The fluorescent reds and oranges shiver with an intensity that makes the entire composition hover with a curious sensation. This work is both a complex flat Mondrian–like surface of intersecting planes, and a picture of a house vacated of people, animals and detail.

Arkley elevates the everyday into the realm of the strange and enigmatic, but does so with a colour range that shows the influence of popular culture. Unlike the Pop artists Arkley does not picture popular culture as such, but the title of this painting suggests the advertising slogans used to sell model homes. The Australian suburbs are captured on canvas by the artist as a new zone of aesthetic inspiration. Arkley has transformed the suburban home into a new icon that suggests the soullessness of the Australian suburban sprawl.

  • List as many words as you can to describe what you see in this image.
  • Find adjectives to describe the paint surface, colours, and the moods and feelings which the work evokes. Select some of the key words to form a short poem.
  • Based on your observation of this work do you believe it was important for Arkley to capture the time of day or season accurately in his paintings? Give reasons for your answer.
  • Suggest what might have interested Arkley about this particular house. Consider what information the artist has chosen to include and exclude in constructing the image.
  • What visual effects has the artist used to communicate mood and meaning? What mood and meaning was the artist trying to suggest?
  • Compare and contrast Superb + Solid with Cityscape. Consider art elements, techniques, composition, mood and meanings.
  • Compare and contrast Superb + Solid with an image of a house of similar style from a magazine or real estate advertisement. What are the key differences?

Additional information


Howard Arkley was born 5 May in Melbourne. He attended Surrey Hills Primary School and Box Hill Technical School.

1966 – 67
Arkley saw the exhibition of Sydney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was then that he realised it was possible to be a professional artist. In fact the very next day he began painting.

Arkley attended TOP (Tertiary Orientation Program) at Prahran College of Advanced Education.

Studied painting. Diploma of Art & Design (Painting)

Attended Melbourne State College and obtained a Diploma of Education. Married Elizabeth Gower and lived in Chapel St, Prahran.

April held his first exhibition White Paintings at Tolarno Galleries in St Kilda, Melbourne.

Awarded the Alliance Française Art Fellowship and spent the following twelve months travelling with Elizabeth Gower in Europe and the United States. In Paris he began photographing Art Nouveau and Art Deco doorways which, on his return to Melbourne, lead to his interest in the designs and patterns of fly–screens and suburban gates.

March – Arkley’s father died.

Arkley painted a tram for the Victorian Ministry of the Arts, Tram 384.

Taught TOP at Prahran College of Advanced Education. Separated from Elizabeth Gower. Met Lyn Oliver.

The National Gallery of Victoria purchased two acrylic panels and four chairs called Muzak Mural–Chair Tableau of 1980–81.

Arkley exhibited at the NGV in the exhibition Popism curated by Paul Taylor amongst friends Jenny Watson and Juan Davila. In the same year he completed his giant doodle Primtitve to exhibit at the Prahran College Gallery.
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Arkley commenced a first series of Tattoo paintings.

Married Christine Johnson

Exhibited at 200 Gertrude Street Gallery, Casual works: Working Drawings, Source Material, Doodles 1974–1987 from which the NGV purchased Tattooed Head.

Lived with Alison Burton in St Kilda.

Monash University held a retrospective of Arkley’s work. Arkley decided to move to Warrigal Rd, Oakleigh.

Blue Chip Show collaboration with Juan Davila, Tolarno.

Fabricated Rooms AGNSW coincided with Ashley Crawford, Ray Edgar’s book about Arkley’s work Spray.

June – Venice Biennale. Exhibited The Home Show at the 48th Venice Biennale with world wide acclaim.

July – two days after his return to Melbourne from overseas he was found dead in his Oakleigh studio.


Abstract Art
In abstract art the elements of art (such as colour, shape, line and tone) are used to create an image or form that is not realistic/naturalistic. There are varying degrees of abstraction in art. Some abstract art reflects clear references to recognisable forms. Other abstract art makes limited or no reference to recognisable forms.

A mechanical painting tool that uses compressed air to apply paint in a fine spray.

Amish Quilts
The distinctive quilts which have been made by the Amish women of rural Pennsylvania (USA) since the late nineteenth century. The bold colour combinations and geometric shapes and designs that characterise the quilts are strongly influenced by the values and faith of the Amish.

Art Deco
A decorative style/movement that had a significant influence on design, including architecture and the decorative arts (c.1910–1930). The strong geometric shapes and elegant, streamlined forms and lines of Art Deco design reflect the influence of the machine–age modern art and design movements such as Cubism and The Bauhaus.

Art Nouveau
A decorative style/movement that had a significant influence on design, including architecture and the decorative arts, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was characterised by asymmetrical compositions and sinuous flowing lines and shapes inspired by plant forms.

Automatic Writing/Drawing
Writing or drawing that is produced by unconscious free–association, and spontaneous action, rather than by rational, controlled thought and planning.

De Stijl
De Stijl (the style) (c. 1917–31) was the name of a magazine published in Holland by a group of artists and designers. The group, who also became known as De Stijl, was committed to creating a harmonious living environment through art and design, based on horizontal and vertical lines, the primary colours, and black, white and grey.

Exquisite Corpse
A technique used by Surrealist artists to produce texts or images incorporating random ideas and chance. Based on a traditional parlour game, creating the exquisite corpse involves several participants who each, in turn, contribute words or images to a text or image, without seeing what previous participants have contributed.

A social and political movement that advocates equality and rights for women. Feminist art has taken many different forms but often gives emphasis to subjects, materials and techniques associated with women’s lives.

Figurative Art
Art in which there is some form of likeness to real objects, people or places.

High Art
High art is often associated with art forms such as opera, classical music, ballet, literature and fine art. It is widely perceived as the work of professional artists, serious in intent, valuable and aimed mainly at an exclusive and educated audience. The terms ‘high art’ and ‘popular culture’ reflect the hierarchical division that is sometimes perceived between different forms of cultural production.

Mass Media
Media forms, such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines, which communicate to large numbers of people.

Modern Art
Art associated with the major movements in Western art between c.1860–1970. According to some commentators on art history, during this time art ‘progressed’ from naturalistic representation (ie impressionism) to the abstract and non–representational art forms of the high modernist styles of the 1950s and 1960s (ie Minimalism) that were seen as a form of ‘pure’ art. Many aspects of modern art, including the idea that art ‘progresses’ from one style to another were challenged by postmodernism.

Op Art
Op art (short for optical art) is a style of non–representational painting in which precise arrangements of colour, line or shape are used to create the illusion of movement, light or space. Op art became popular in the mid 1960s and influenced fashion and interior design.

Pop Art
Pop art developed in England in the 1950s and then came to prominence in America in the 1960s. It is a style that takes its subject matter, and some of its ideas and techniques, from the everyday world, in particular industrialised popular culture.

Popism was a landmark exhibition, curated by Paul Taylor, held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1982. The exhibition highlighted the use of images, forms or text drawn from popular culture or other sources.

Pop Culture
Popular culture includes popular forms of entertainment, fashion, consumer goods and advertising. It is also often linked to commercial or mass production, and is perceived as having little or no serious aesthetic, intellectual or economic value. The artificial boundaries between high art and popular culture have been blurred by many artists since the development of Pop art in the 1950s and 60s (see Pop art).

Post Modernism
A general term used to describe a wide range of cultural and critical movements and ideas that have influenced contemporary society since the 1970s. Postmodernism challenged many widely accepted ideas and values in art, culture and society. Postmodern visual art often addresses issues related to modernism in art, including the emphasis on innovation, originality, and progress that is associated with modern art. Many postmodern artworks include images or forms appropriated from earlier art styles or popular culture. Fragmentation, fabrication, layering, parody and humour are also common characteristics of postmodern art.

Punk Movement
A sub–culture that originated in the United Kingdom and United States in the 1970s. Punk was closely associated with anti–establishment values and ideas that were evident in extreme and rebellious forms of fashion and music. Influential bands associated with Punk music include The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones.

Surrealism began in the early 1920s as a literary movement under the leadership of the French writer André Breton. Surrealist artists sought to fuse everyday reality with the experience of dreams and the subconscious to create a ‘super’ reality. Surrealist images often combine logically unconnected objects using a meticulous, almost photographic technique, sometimes evoking a dream–like quality. Other artists explored the unconscious mind by using techniques of ‘automatism’. The ‘reality’ of the subconscious mind and the world of dreams were preferred over the matter–of–fact reality and logic of everyday life. Major exponents were Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Jean Arp and Joan Miro.

A term commonly used to describe residential areas outside major cities.

Zen Philosophy
A school of Buddhist thought that emphasises meditation and self–contemplation as the means to achieve enlightenment .


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