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Howard ARKLEY (b.1951; d.1999)

Photo of ArtistHoward Arkley’s principal theme is unique and instantly recognizable – a celebration of hometown Melbourne suburbia, particularly its post-war, triple-fronted, brick veneer homes with his distinctive air-brush style and bright fluorescent colours. 

He perfected the art of making the commonplace look remarkable, such as the stark lines of freeways, and taking us inside the childhood homes of those, like him, who grew up in the 50s. 

His big, vibrant paintings, meticulously finished with an incandescent, almost psychedelic style, were justifiably compared to the likes of Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein & Caulfield. 

Arkley had worked with a variety of mediums across the years, achieving moderate success. But his career took off with the airbrush, which he long experimented with and perfected, giving his paintings an almost surreal feel. The suburban pictures never feature a single, living soul, yet the garish colours suggest that this is not a bad thing; it’s just the way it is. 

Across his 30-year career, Arkley was dedicated, rigorous, and, if anything, too critical of his own work. His early yearning for success, combined with personal problems, saw him seek solace in drugs, although he was a much-loved larrikin, liked by his peers. 

It all peaked in 1999 when he represented Australia at the 48th Venice Biennale, travelled to London to plan an album cover for rock singer Nick Cave, and then flew to Los Angeles for a sell-out show of his paintings. He married his long-time love in Las Vegas, and returned home triumphant, to be at last celebrated by the art world in his own country.  

Two weeks later, he was dead, tragically dying of a drug overdose, leaving family, friends, critics and admirers to mourn a great talent unfulfilled. 

Howard Arkley was 48.


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