Some of the 20th centuries most powerful images, which over time have become iconic for many Australians include observations of the exterior and interiors of traditionally styled Australian family homes, as recorded by well known Melbourne artist Howard Arkley (1951-1999).
Howard Arkley (and friends…) is an exhibition on display until 28 February 2016 at the TarraWarra Museum of Art in the beautiful surroundings of the Yarra Valley, just one hour’s drive from Melbourne.
It has been co-curated by TarraWarra Museum of Art Director, Victoria Lynn and Anthony Fitzpatrick.
“Each year TarraWarra Museum of Art surveys a significant Australian artist from our collection. Howard Arkley (and friends…) continues the Museum’s intention to view the history of modern Australian art through the filter of the present,” Ms Lynn said.
The show includes over 60 works, rendered 1974 to 1999 the year of the artist’s untimely death. The exhibition features many works never seen before, including some of his most quintessential and iconic images.
Victoria Lynn noted ‘Arkley pursued a singular vision, one that incorporated aspects of high art and popular culture, such as punk and pop; a love of urban and suburban imagery and architecture; an ongoing preoccupation with pattern and colour; and a life-long dialogue with abstraction’.
The exhibition introduces three new perspectives; Arkley’s archive, his music and his friends. Photographs, visual diaries, sketch books, source material and working notes, all on loan from the State Library of Victoria, are also on display.
This combination of archival materials, studies and paintings are an intrinsic part of the exhibition’s aim to reveal Arkley’s ideas, influences, processes and working methods in developing his images,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
The show demonstrates Howard Arkley’s complex processes and explores how he contributed, while transforming our perception of the everyday world around us.
Arkley was intensely aware suburbia could be an alienating way of life, characterised by monotony and a lack of intellectual stimuli that can often leave people living in a surreal world of their own.
Many people seek out a house designed in an earlier period, because it offers a feeling of security and continuity, which in turn nurtures our wellbeing
Working in synthetic polymer paint on canvas, Howard Arkley steeped in the traditions of modernist and abstract art produced indoor and outdoor images that hark back to an age when the Australian ‘housewife’ reigned supreme, the kitchen being her castle.
Exploring the power and symbolism of black and white with a softness and delicacy enhanced by the powdery spray of the airbrush, Arkley emphasised how proud people were of their homes.
Many manicured their lawns and placed lace curtains at the windows on the world, not enabling anyone to see inside.
He wanted to highlight the contradictory character of Australian ideals and attitudes towards home and hearth.
This includes not considering that behind every door is a story, one that may not suit the society outside.
Many of Arkley’s soft meditative works were also influenced by the tenets of Zen philosophy, whose aim of austerity can aid disciplined contemplation.
He perused colour charts at Hardware stores, keeping up to date with the sources of inspiration for everyday homeowners and interior decorators.
Line was something he liked to explore intensely, tracing its visual and formal applications from the mundane to the exquisite in order to make his considerations of beauty accessible to any observer.
Arkley always remembered that his inspiration to enter the world of imagery was forged when, with his family, he enjoyed his first visit to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1967.
Afterwards he was so engaged that it is recorded that the next day, using his father’s household paint, he produced countless images from the catalogue.
From then on Arkley lived and breathed art, devouring the history of art from books on the subject while drawing insatiably, exploring either the sprayed and calligraphic line to every extent possible or imaginable.
He preferred always to draw, influenced by the works of such luminary artists of the past such as German Printmaker Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) who much like himself, was a graphic artist first and foremost, giving him monetary success and wide recognition.
Not satisfied with immediate fame in that field, Durer established himself as a painter, colourist, and Arkley achieved the same result.
He preferred the airbrush, spending a great deal of time to refine his use of it as an artist would have in the past, when each new style of brush that emerged offered yet another opportunity for painters to achieve different results when applying paint to their canvas
As the years went by the lines between reality and fantasy became blurred as he embraced the order of abstraction. Arkley worked within a vibrant, artistic milieu with his colleagues and collaborators including Alison Burton, Tony Clark, Aleks Danko, Juan Davila, Elizabeth Gower, Christine Johnson, Geoff Lowe, Callum Morton, John Nixon, Kathy Temin, Peter Tyndall, Jenny Watson and Constanze Zikos.
They have all contributed to the exhibition, lending the Museum pieces Arkley gifted to them.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016