Sampling: The Art of Howard Arkley
Howard Arkley (1951-1999) pursued a singular vision that incorporated aspects of high art and popular culture; a sustained engagement with urban and suburban imagery and motifs; an ongoing preoccupation with pattern and colour; and a lifelong dialogue with abstraction.
This story is drawn from the exhibition Howard Arkley (and friends…), presented by TarraWarra Museum of Art. The exhibition included over 60 paintings by Arkley from 1974 until 1999, including the sparse White Paintings from the 1970s; his breakthrough into figuration with works such as Primitive and Tattooed Head; his surreal Zappo and cacti paintings; the electrifying house exteriors and interiors; and his final freeway works.
Howard Arkley (and friends…) also introduced three distinctive perspectives to Arkley: his archive, his music and his friends. What follows is a sample of how this exhibition incorporated the Howard Arkley Archive to highlight the ways in which, from a seemingly endless flow of dislocated and disjointed cultural fragments, the artist generated and synthesised his own web of references and connections, a method and a structure that underpinned his potent, highly distinctive and instantly recognisable visual identity.
Searching through the vast amount of material in the Howard Arkley Archive, which was acquired by the State Library of Victoria from the Arkley Estate in 2011, the depth of the artist’s lifelong commitment to building his library of references becomes quickly apparent. Ranging from visual diaries and sketchbooks to drawings and studies, from photographs to magazine clippings, and from comic books to fashion and hardware catalogues, this rich repository documents, alludes to and elucidates a range of his ideas and projects from his student years right through his career as a practicing artist. Sifting through this material, one discovers that underlying each of the artist’s highly considered and pristinely presented canvases, lies a multitude of ideas and imagery often culled from the most disparate and unlikely of sources. While this in itself is not an uncommon practice for many artists, it is how these materials were assembled, studied and adapted by Arkley that distinguishes his approach. Close analysis of the relationship between the archive and his canvases reveals a diverse array of strategies and a variety of approaches to sampling and quotation.