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Private collection, Los Angeles, until 2002.
HOME SWEET HOME
A child of the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Howard Arkley made his professional and commercial breakthrough with his 'House and Home' paintings in 1988. In this series of large canvases Arkley had his eureka moment, finding the new Australian landscape in the pedestrian environment of the suburbs. His large and compacted images of individual suburban facades, precisely and dispassionately rendered from projected images with Day-Glo airbrush over ruled lines, elevate this mundane world to the realm of art. If Barry Humphries had lovingly mocked these same Melbourne suburbs, Arkley has portrayed them equally definitively in this quasi-monumental series of canvases which observes every detail of their banal iconography, from garage doors and tarmac drives to lime-green lawns and triple-fronted facades, the proudly individual features that declare the 'home' over the 'house'.
The subjects, which draw heavily from such idealised representations of the landscape in the advertising literature of House and Garden magazines, are then taken through the prism of Arkley's art. They emerge singing and dancing in a blaze of airbrushed neon, with lurid colours and jarring angles juggling for space in Arkley's 'Carnival of Suburbia'.
If Arkley himself thought the artistic translation may have taken the subject away from reality, he recognised that walking the suburban streets was 'like looking at my own paintings ... I can't believe it, My God. I thought I was hyping it up. I thought I was making an imaginative statement. But no, it's real.' This is the recognition Arkley admitted to seeking: 'What I would actually like to do is equivalent to when you're driving along in the country and you look at the landscape and you say "Oh there's a Fred Williams." You change the way people see it. And you make people look at it. In the same way that David Hockney has changed the way that people look at Los Angeles, the swimming pools. Hollywood's Mulholland Drive, good God, that could be Lower Templestowe Road! I just want people to see it.'
Arkley's suburban subjects Howard Arkley, The Home Show represented Australia at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, shortly before his premature death in the same year. A first retrospective of Arkley's work was mounted by the National Gallery of Victoria in 2006-07.