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Dale HICKEY (b.1937)

Dale Hickey was born in Melbourne in 1937. He studied design and illustration at Swinburne Technical College from 1954 to 1957, graduating with a Diploma of Graphic Arts. * After graduating, between 1958 and 1959, Hickey worked as a graphic designer in advertising and with ABC television. ** In 1960 he studied at the Melbourne Technical Teachers’ College and taught with the Victorian Department of Education until 1963. *

During the 1960s, Hickey moved from expressionist paintings towards abstraction. As a student, Hickey had met the American hard-edge painter James Doolin, who was a valuable conduit to the hard-edge abstraction that had emerged in New York. * Hickey worked with oil and enamel paints and his paintings featured repetitive geometric patterns derived from the suburban world, such as fences, brick walls and floor tiles. For example, one of his paintings included in the seminal exhibition The Field at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968, with brilliantly coloured grids of geometric patterning, was based on a quilt pattern found on a bedspread and Hickey used shading to achieve a subtle optical effect suggesting a three-dimensional aspect. *

In the late 1960s, Hickey was part of a movement away from painting in two-dimensional and moved towards installation/ constructivist paintings. In the early 1970s, trying to escape from “the philosophical climate of the time [that] was really very doer”, he travelled to England and America and stopped making artworks for more than a year. In 1972, he returned to painting and moved from anti-compositional to real still-live and then on to landscape painting. *** Hickey went overseas again, to Paris, in 1977 when he was awarded the use of the Power Studio at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. Returning to Melbourne, he chose the bush at Cottlesbridge, close to his Melbourne outer suburban home at Eltham, as the subject for a series of paintings. **

Hickey held various teaching positions including Senior Lecturer in painting at the Phillip Institute of Technology from 1973 to 1989, before devoting himself full-time to painting.

Hickey’s first solo exhibition was of expressionistic paintings held at Toorak Galleries, Melbourne, in 1964. In 1968, his work was included the inaugural exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Southbank site, The Field, which showcased Australian colour field paintings and abstract sculpture and conceptual works. **** Since then, he has held numerous solo and group exhibitions around Australia. A large-scale retrospective of his work was held at Ballarat Fine Art Gallery in 1988. More recently, in 2008, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne presented Dale Hickey: Life in a Box, which brought together 36 key works from the artist’s 40-year career.

Hickey has won many awards including the Hugh Williamson Prize in 1986 and grants from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council in 1974, 1975 and 1987 and an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship from them in 1991. He undertook a studio residency funded by the University of Sydney at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris in 1977 and was commissioned to produce the Cottlesbridge landscape tapestry for the National Australia Bank through the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in 1980.

Hickey has described his early work as being inspired by American critic Clement Greenberg and by pop art. From the late 1960s to the 1980s, Hickey experimented with a wide range of different styles constituting, according to critic Christopher Heathcote: “a sustained investigation into the nature of art”.

Hickey’s later work is a series of stripped-down portrayals of his own studio in which easels, windows, paintings and tables created patterns of flat, overlapping rectangles. These paintings might be seen as both abstract and figurative. They are ‘art about art’, but also meditations on the solitary life of the painter, on the search for inspiration that haunts all artists. ****

With his graphics background, Hickey's art has retained a concern for surface quality, so much so that his works oscillate between being paintings of flat patterns and three-dimensional objects. He has a conceptual approach to the subject matter of his art, that is, the notion that the idea or concept of the painting is more important than the finished work.

About the element of repetition characteristic of much of his work, Hickey has said: “I wanted to produce the kind of painting that had everything going for it except that charming aspect, and done repetition seemed to be something of an affront … I wanted to make my paintings as hostile as I could on one level, but as powerful as I could on another level … I really wanted to feel reassured that anyone who really did respond to my paintings was responding to something that was really there and not something that was just superficial.” ***

As Dr Chris McAuliffe, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, said in the Foreword to the catalogue for Dale Hickey: Life in a Box: “Hickey is a somewhat enigmatic figure; a painter who managed to traverse the history of abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism as well as more conventional genres such as still life. In all, Hickey’s work appears simultaneously rigorous, human and challenging.” *****

Hickey’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Parliament House Art Collection in Canberra and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia.

* Dale Hickey, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, pp. 6, 7 & 110 ** Dale Hickey education kit, National Gallery of Victoria *** James Gleeson Interviews: Dale Hickey, The James Gleeson Oral History Collection, National Gallery of Australia, 1 May 1979 **** Art: Dale Hickey, John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 2019 ***** Dale Hickey: Life in a Box, exhibition catalogue, Paul Zika


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