The Library of Doodles
Studies for ‘Zappo’ 1983-88
collaged pen and ink, photocopies, textiles
and off-set printed matter on cardboard
120.5 x 84.7 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
© The Estate of Howard Arkley. Courtesy Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art
With his trusty black fibre-tip pen, Arkley scrawled on all manner of surfaces including magazines, vintage Mills & Boon novels, beer coasters, wrapping paper, Christmas cards, and serviettes amongst others, producing a rich repertoire of figurative possibilities in the process.
In his working notes for the Cacti and Succulents series, Arkley lists the following terms: ‘Hybridizing – Grafting – Mutants – Propagation’. Presumably derived from his copy of Growing Cacti and Succulents in Australia and New Zealand (1981) by William and Sybil Harland, this terminology is a kind of uncanny shorthand description of the qualities of Arkley’s doodles with their seemingly endless permutations and proliferation. Numerous sketches explore these notions with confronting configurations of spiky, punkish human-plant hybrids in various stages of mutation. With their increased scale and vibrant colour, paintings such as Physiognomy (1987) and Strange Fruit (1987) are more formalised portrait studies of these curious and suggestive fusions. Like the individual characteristics of the human face, each figure is represented with its own distinct set of features and expressive qualities, prompting us to imbue them with a perverse kind of personhood.