Howard Arkley and Friends – Tarra Warra


5 DEC 2015 – 28 FEB 2016

Curated by Anthony Fitzpatrick and Victoria Lynn

Words by Caitlin Leishman


Howard Arkley is a household name, and this exhibition at Tarra Warra is an insightful tribute to the work he created before his death in 1999 at the age of 48.


In his youth, Arkley was inspired by an NGV exhibition featuring Sidney Nolan. Perhaps (like most of us) Arkley enjoyed Nolan’s style and commentary on iconic figures such as Ned Kelly. However, it was Arkley’s ability to meticulously manipulate an airbrush into print-like imagery, which has won over his fans.



Image:  Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly, 1946 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of Sunday Reed, 1977

Aside from showing a diverse array of work, from landscapes to portraits to domestic scenes to the abstract, Tarra Warra has done an excellent job at giving you a personality to discover. Many are already aware of Arkley’s fascination with pop culture and urbanism, but with the exhibition accompanied by his favorite musical artists such as Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads and Blondie you’re able to feel a sense of Arkley at work. An electric guitar player resembling Caroline de Maigret strums in the corner.




In this headspace it’s a pleasure to pace canvas to canvas, switching between his annotated sketch books and readings, such as Peter Carey’s 1974 Report on the Shadow Industry. It’s an added element to follow his thought processes through to the final works.





Arkley’s earlier works are more minimal and abstract than is usually considered as “Arkley”. But it is the optical illusions here that carry onto his later works. You then move through cubist-like images, fiercely structured and crowded works. A robotic, futuristic series of abstract portraits begin to incorporate the vibrant colour so commonly associated with the artist. Finally, domestic urban life is reached with large canvases covered in bright and blurred suburban homes and industrial buildings. There is such an obsessiveness that comes through in these works, alike to a man who trims his lawn blade by blade. Naturally the chronological outlay of work reflects how Arkley’s commentary on his observations of everyday life progressed with a sense of pop culture. His collaborations with artists including Elizabeth Gower and John Nixon show a want to continually experiment and progress with an unrestricted style.




After wandering around the halls of Tarra Warra once, and then again, you can fully appreciate the humour, optical effects and the layers of reality that Arkley constructed. The exhibition allows for an understanding of Arkley as well as an appreciation for the lines in everyday life.

All images, with the exception of those individually attributed, are taken by author of works from the Howard Arkley and Friends show.


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