Howard Arkley 1951-1999
Howard Arkley was an avid drawer from an early age and was fascinated by contemporary art. While he was at the Prahran College, he learned to use an airbrush which became the key immediately identifying element in his artworks throughout his career. ‘Arkley refined the use of the airbrush as a drawing tool which he manipulated expertly like a pen.’2 He wanted to create smooth, glossy-type compositions as part of a statement on the subject matter that most fascinated him: suburbia and the lived experience of mostly urban Australians.
‘Those paintings, created with a spray gun and stencils, shimmer with a dream-like kaleidoscope of colour and pattern. The homes in his meticulously outlined, totally smooth canvasses aren’t real dwellings, they’re fantasy concoctions playing with the aspiration prose of real estate adverts and the visual grammar of home-beautiful magazines. There are elements of pop art, of post-modern appropriation, of formalism, in their obsession with texture, line, colour and shape.’3
Arkley’s works combine both a lighthearted sense of fun in his riotous use of colour and busy decoration, and a slightly jarring feeling of stifling conservatism in the straight lines and severe neatness of the subject matter. This is particularly evident in his architectural works of ordinary Melbourne homes and interiors for which he was best known.
Arkley himself was said to be an exuberant character who was charming and regarded fondly by many. His first wife, Elizabeth Gower, said of him ‘if I had to find one word to describe Howard, it would be “intense”. Everything about Howard was intense… He was intensely focused on his Art. His sustained practice and substantial body of work attests to that. He worked hard. He rarely sat still… He had such control of the airbrush; it was like the sixth finger on his hand. His concentration was intense. One can only marvel at his ability to sustain it. If he wasn’t spraying, he was drawing, and doodling on everything – envelopes, newspapers, book covers, tablecloths… He had a wild imagination. His conversations were intense. Whatever the subject, he’d have an opinion on it. And his most passionate subject was Art… I miss his passion for Art, his genuine smile, his enthusiasm but most of all his intensity.’2