For almost thirty years Howard Arkley (1951-1999) produced some of the most idiosyncratic and iconoclastic art in Australia. This exhibition represents the development of his 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 the everyday, however, were always produced in dialogue with other concerns such as 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 was the suburban dreams of home ownership or the functional design of modernist furniture and architecture.
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 exhibition examines the influences and milieu that inspired him – from punk music, the club scenes of the 1970s and 1980s, fashion, feminism and masculinity to the volatile art world itself. The exhibition surveys Arkley's work through the developments of abstraction early in his career, the evolution of figuration, and the continual tension between representational and abstracted images of the landscape, the home and suburbia.
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. He was particularly influential on his peers and on a younger generation of artists with whom he interacted as a teacher and mentor.
Co-inciding with this retrospective is a new book discussing Arkley's art and his life. Carnival in Suburbia: The Art of Howard Arkley, authored by Arkley's brother-in-law, art historian, John Gregory. Available at the Art Gallery of New South Wales bookshop.
A National Gallery of Victoria Touring Exhibition.