Physiognomy 1987

Alternate title: Happenstance
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 163 x 122
signed, dated and titled
[on reverse]
[last auctioned Nov.2023]

This painting was exhibited as ‘Physiognomy 1987’ (its inscribed title and date) at the Bellas Gallery, Brisbane, in June 1989. The title points to the intriguing humanoid transformation of the cactus form in Arkley’s mid-to-late 1980s compositions, and provides a foretaste of his exploration of masks and faces in the 1990 ‘Head Show.’

But when the canvas was first exhibited in September 1987, in Arkley’s solo show at Roslyn Oxley9, Sydney, it was listed in the check-list as ‘Happenstance’ (see It clearly appears in the background of a photo taken at the exhibition opening on 2 Sept.1987 (for a reproduction, see the exhibition entry in this catalogue).

Several further complications should be mentioned. First, the present painting obviously should be distinguished from Happenstance (1987), a completely different composition featuring a cactoid figure on legs (also included in Arkley’s June 1989 Bellas exhibition).

Second, the present work was reproduced in Spray (1997) as ‘Strange Fruit’ – a title actually belonging to another cactoid composition from 1987; for Arkley’s derivation of this title from a famous song by Billie Holiday, and further comments, see the entry on Strange Fruit 1987.


  • Auctioned by Deutscher-Menzies, Melb., 25-26 April 1999, lot 248, as ‘The Physiognomy’, s+d 1987; ill.; noting ‘related work’ reproduced in Spray 76 (actually this painting: see below, under Literature); est.$8-12,000; sold for $7,000 plus buyer’s premium
  • Auctioned by Christie’s, Sydney, 13 Aug.2000, lot 13 ( ill.; as Physiognomy; est.$40-60,000; not sold)
  • Private collection, Sydney
  • Auctioned by Deutscher and Hackett, Sydney, 22 Nov.2023, lot 39: ill., above, also noting from the Estate of the late Alan Cardy; est.$60,000-$80,000; sold for $147,273 (inc.buyer’s premium)


  • HA Roslyn Oxley9, 9/87, cat.11 (as ‘Happenstance’)
  • HA Bellas 6/89, cat.2 (as 1200 x 1600 mm, priced at $5,500; details corroborated by Christie’s 8/00 auction cat. as above)
  • HA TarraWarra 12/15-2/16 (details as above, listing the work as in a Sydney collection; ill.)


  • Spray 76 (ill.: as ‘Strange Fruit’ – see comments above)
  • Carnival 169 and Fig.6.14 (ill.: as Physiognomy)