Waterfall 2 1988

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 175 x 135
signed, dated and titled
[on reverse]
National Australia Bank Collection

This rare attempt by Arkley to address the natural world might be seen in one way as a spoof on the Australian landscape tradition from which his art is normally so clearly distinguishable.[1] Such subject-matter hardly suited his method or mentality; as he told Richard Brown in 1989 (possibly with the recent experience of painting this work in mind): ‘The subjects that I choose are very impersonal… It’s all about the Australian suppressed experience in the suburbs… It wouldn’t be appropriate to go out and do rural landscape painting using this approach, I’ve tried and it doesn’t work very well’ (Brown 1989:39). A few years later, he said unequivocally: ‘I never had any feel for the landscape…’ (Gregory 1992, unpaginated).

Indeed, Alison Burton recalls Arkley’s dissatisfaction with this particular painting. His studio collection contains an unusually extensive quantity of preparatory material for it (sketches, modified source images, etc.), suggesting his struggle with the subject. Interestingly, despite the title, there is no apparent evidence of an extant version no.1; perhaps an earlier attempt was abandoned?

However, posterity has not judged this painting as harshly as the artist himself apparently did. The by-play between graphic and ‘painterly’ passages is interesting, recalling several earlier works such as Tennis (1983) and Suburban Landscape 1987, and paralleling several other canvases dating from 1988, e.g. Stucco House (1988). The painting, currently in Melbourne, but exhibited in the past  in the National Australia Bank’s European offices, is now a valued component of the Bank’s corporate collection, which also includes the early ‘white’ painting Stroke (1975), acquired from Arkley’s first solo exhibition at Tolarno. [2]


  • Purchased for the National Australia Bank Collection in 1988


  • Heide (‘National Australia Bank Collection: Rivers in Australian Art’), 1991
  • Deutscher Fine Art, Melb. (‘Australian Art: Colonial to Contemporary’), May-June 1995, cat.111 (ill.)


  • National Australia Bank Collection: Rivers in Australian Art (1991), p.16 (exh.cat.; ill.)

[1] Compare for example an Arthur Boyd waterfall auctioned by Christie’s, Melb., 27/28 Nov. 2000, lot 132 (reproduced in the catalogue).

[2] Many thanks to both Felicity St John Moore, curator of the NAB collection from 1994, and current curator Claire Marshall, for their help in clarifying the history of Waterfall 2 (correspondence March-April 2009 and May 2012).