Howard Arkley a painter, photographer and sculptor was born in Melbourne in 1951. A visit to the National Gallery of Victoria’s 1967 'Sidney Nolan Retrospective Exhibition, Paintings from 1937 to 1967’ inspired him to immediately take up painting. Arkley undertook his formal studies at Prahan College of Advanced Education and completed his Diploma of Art and Design in 1975. In this early period he utilised the airbrush as his principal working tool. His first solo exhibition was held at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne in 1975. This exhibition was titled 'White Paintings’ and it featured Arkley’s abstract and monochrome works.

In 1977, Arkley was the recipient of the Alliance Française Art Fellowship, the Visual Arts Board residency in Paris and the Green Street Studio residency in New York. Whilst abroad, he developed his signature spontaneous and obsessive working style, returning to Australia with a new perspective on Australia’s national context. Arkley began to introduce colour and figuration, focusing on everyday suburban themes and iconography. Beginning with his collection of flyscreens, his work reflected notions of domesticity (feminism), mass production (popular culture), surface (minimalism), pattern, order and reproduction, using and reusing his collected bank of images and iconography. He was heavily involved in the local punk scene and in 1981 admitted its influence in his frenetic work titled Primitive, which, as the artist states, “set off my career” (Arkley in Crawford and Edgar, 2001, p. 48). His work took a new direction. The automatic nature of Primitive reflected his personal life; embedded with his collected and reused iconography it led him toward portraits and his tattooed 'Urban Tribalism’ series.

1983’s Suburban Interior marked Arkley’s entrance to the interior suburban space. The use of wallpaper as a surface for decoration and scenes of 'home life’ reflected his increasing interest in domestic themes and was followed by streetscapes, homes with gardens, high rise apartments and home décor which he saw as popular imagery to address. By 1988, all of Arkley’s work was focused on suburban themes. He made his professional and commercial breakthrough, reconfiguring Australian suburbs as landscapes. He returned to portraits in 1990 with Tolarno Galleries’ 'The Head Show’, which he saw as self portraits “wearing masks and hiding identities” (Trioli, 1990). Arkley also began his collaboration with Juan Davila in Blue Chip Instant Decorator. This successful partnership resulted in the merging of painting, installation and constructed furnishing and further developed Arkley’s style and confidence.

Mix 'n’ Match of 1992 was inspired by home decorating magazines Home Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens . Arkley reduced his form to stylised images, paying increasing attention to details (pictures on walls, books on shelves). 'The Pointillist Suburb’ series followed in 1994 and he finally felt he had connected with his audience.

Tolarno Galleries’ ’20 Year Review’ (1995) and the 'Fabricated Room’ (1997) series preceded Arkley’s selection as Australia’s representative at the 48th Venice Biennale (1999). 'The Home Show’ had a critical and popular success resulting in offers of exhibitions in Paris and London.

Shortly after his returning to Melbourne from the Biennale Arkley died of a heroin overdose. Since his death Arkley’s work continues to be exhibited and is highly regarded as serious studies of Australian suburban landscape.

Craig, Rebecca
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