‘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 three of the 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). Archive slides and photos help identify most of the works, although there is some uncertainty regarding cat.nos.7 and 8 (as noted below).

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 gives sizes as shown below for nos.1-3, each priced at $6,200; nos.4-11, all priced at $4,000, are listed as 160 x 122 in size):

1.      Bungalow Home 1987 (160 x 198)

2.      Triple Fronted 1987 (168 x 239)

3.      O.Y.O. Flats 1987 (198 x 168)

4.      Still Life Petunias 1987

5.      Zappo Head 1987 [Oxley]

6.      Suburban Landscape = Suburban Window 1987 [Howard Arkley & Christine Johnson]

7.      Strange Fruit: in fact, this may have been Physiognomy 1987 (cf. no.8 below)

8.      English Style (1987?): not certainly identified; but given the fact that both Strange Fruit 1987 and Physiognomy 1987 evidently appeared in this exhibition (see photos reproduced here), this may have been Strange Fruit 1987 (rather than a suburban house, as the title may seem to suggest)

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

10.   Felony 1987: a closely similar reworking of the 1983 canvas

11.    Happenstance (1986?)

[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, for McDonald’s strident response to the Arkley retrospective, headlined ‘Major hype for a minor talent’.