Howard Arkley / Australia 1951–99 / Stucco home 1991 / Synthetic polymer paint (with ‘Hammertone’) on canvas / 167 x 167cm / Purchased 1994. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Howard Arkley Estate

Howard Arkley
Stucco home 1991

Not Currently on Display

Howard Arkley’s obsessive portraits of suburban Melbourne houses are among the most dedicated and serious studies of Australian popular culture. His interest in suburbia is partly a reaction against the mythic status of the outback landscape among Australian artists, most of whom live in cities.

Despite the superficial appearance of satirical humour and parody, the meticulously decorative surface of Stucco home 1991 is a careful portrayal of the almost clinical precision displayed by the owners of neat suburban bungalows.

As a reflection of comfort and propriety, Arkley intensifies the seemingly mundane domestic subject matter into a stylised facade for anxious self-repression. Through the large blank picture-window, Arkley creates an ambiguous impression that there is a not-quite perceptible, vaguely sinister form behind the dark glass.

Like a psychologically revealing portrait of a person, this picture of a house combines the sense of a public image concealing a more complex and problematic existence. Arkley’s application of flat colour through airbrushing boldly disassociated the artist’s hand from the viewing experience.

Born in Melbourne in 1951, Howard Arkley received a Diploma in Art and Design from the Prahran College of Advanced Education in 1972 and a Diploma of Education in 1973.

At Prahran he was introduced to air-brushing by Fred Cress, and other early influences for Arkley included the work of Sidney Nolan and surrealism.

In 1976 he spent 12 months travelling in Europe and the United States before returning to Australia. Arkley’s work was selected for the Australian Pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennale.