‘Howard Arkley: Suburban Urban Messages’, Roslyn Oxley9, Sydney, Sept.1987

‘Howard Arkley: Suburban Urban Messages’, Roslyn Oxley9, 13-21 MacDonald Street, Paddington, Sydney, 1-19 Sept.1987

The show’s title and the three larger canvases (cat.nos.1-3) foregrounded Arkley’s new suburban theme. The remaining paintings comprised a mixture of cacti, scenes from urban / suburban life, and a variant of Felony (1983).

The surviving check-list, and slides and photos in Arkley’s archive and on the Roslyn Oxley9 website (https://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/exhibition/suburban-urban-messages/s6a7s, last accessed 5/3/23), help identify the works included.

In a searching review (5 Sept.1987), Sydney Morning Herald critic John McDonald expressed scepticism about the ‘Popist’ lineage proposed by Paul Taylor at the start of the 1980s, and claimed that a number of the artists initially seen as central to that development were now revealed as insubstantial, along with the whole concept.[1] However, he excepted Arkley from this judgement, describing him as having ‘come through solidly’, suggesting that this 1987 exhibition demonstrated a complex stance towards his everyday subjects, and concluding, albeit in slightly back-handed terms: ‘Arkley’s works could never be considered profound, but neither do they forsake their anchoring in reality for the sake of fashion-conscious quotation’. This considered assessment stands in marked contrast to several much more harshly critical responses by McDonald to Arkley’s work in subsequent years.[2]

(photos: 1. William Mora and Arkley (centre left and right), with guests at the exhibition opening, 2 Sept.1987, in front of Strange Fruit 1987; 2. Guests at the exhibition opening, 2 Sept.1987, including Christine Johnson (?) (2nd from left), with Physiognomy 1987 in the background [photos: Arkley archive])

Works shown were as follows (the check-list gave sizes as shown below for nos.1-3, each priced at $6,200; nos.4-11, all priced at $4,000, were listed as measuring 160 x 122):

1.      Bungalow Home 1987 (160 x 198)

2.      Triple Fronted 1987 (168 x 239)

3.      OYO Flats (198 x 168) = O.Y.O. Flats 1987

4.      Still Life Petunias 1987

5.      Zappo Head 1987 [Oxley]; cf. Zappo Head 1987 [Bendigo].

6.      Suburban Landscape = Suburban Window 1987 [Howard Arkley & Christine Johnson]; not to be confused with the similar variant Suburban Landscape 1987 [Howard Arkley & Christine Johnson], first exhibited in 1990

7.      Strange Fruit 1987

8.      English Style (1987)

9.      The Ritual 1986 (1st shown in HA Tolarno 9/86, no.9)

10.    Felony 1987: a closely similar reworking of Felony (1983)

11.     Happenstance; the photograph reproduced on the Roslyn Oxley9 website indicates that this was the painting shown later as Physiognomy 1987 (see also Arkley’s installation photo taken at the Roslyn Oxley9 exhibition, reproduced here, clearly showing this work in the background). Happenstance (1987) is a different composition.

[1] For a more recent, different view of these issues, see Gregory, “Howard Arkley and ‘Popism’” (2007).

[2] See Bibliography under 1997, 1998 and especially 2007 (McDonald’s strident response to the Arkley retrospective, headlined ‘Major hype for a minor talent’).