Suicide (1983)

Suicide 1983

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 160 x 120

Coll.: unknown

This edgy painting, first shown in Arkley’s 1983 Tolarno exhibition, combines a paradoxical approach to space with a frankly graphic style.

Later, Arkley associated the work with the death of his friend Lisa Craswell in 1987, an event that apparently devastated him (see e.g. Brown 1989: 38 and Spray 62-3). But the original inspiration obviously came from other associations and sources and comic-book imagery, including the artist’s childhood memories of a well-known inner Melbourne icon, the ‘Skipping Girl’ neon sign in Abbotsford (see Brown 1989 and Spray as cited above; and Carnival 124-6, including a reproduction of the sign, from Arkley’s archive).

A preliminary stage in the development of the subject is represented by Untitled [Suicide study] (1982-3) [W/P], a ‘working drawing’ exhibited at the George Paton Gallery earlier in 1983, where a comic-book-style woman cowers below a looming male figure.

For his 1988 ‘Casual Works’ exhibition, Arkley reprised the image on paper, and assembled examples of the visual references he had used to develop it, including a large-scale articulated ‘Wonder Woman’ figure, posed to mimic the falling woman (preserved, along with the other material shown in 1988, in the Art Gallery of Western Australia): see Suicide and source material (1988 and earlier) [W/P]. Commenting on the ‘Casual Works’ version in 1988, Juliana Engberg described the female figure as ‘the famous “Skipping Girl” of our urban childhood… dislodged from her pedestal,… a fallen angel, a metaphor for Arkley’s shattered past, simultaneously a homage to the urban kitsch we feel familiar with’ (Engberg, ‘Circumstantial Evidence’ 1988).

In June 2009, Melbourne’s ‘Skipping Girl’ neon sign was restored to full operation, following a public outcry over earlier reports of its apparent demise: see http://www.skippinggirl.com.au (with a detailed history of the sign, animations etc.; accessed 30 August 2009).

Chris McAuliffe (NGVA Arkley audio-guide 2006), commenting on the ambiguous tone of Arkley’s composition, compares the lines Nick Cave sings in Rowland Howard’s song ‘Shivers’: ‘I’ve been contemplating suicide… but it really doesn’t suit my style’ (from the 1979 Boys Next Door album ‘Door, Door’, part of Arkley’s heavily-played record collection). At the end of 2009, Howard, who was also lead guitarist with Cave’s later band The Birthday Party, and often performed ‘Shivers’ during his own subsequent solo career, died from cancer, aged only 50 (for a tribute/report by Patrick Donovan and Chris Johnston, see the Melbourne Age, 31 Dec.2009).

Provenance

  • apparently sold by Roslyn Oxley9, 1984 (letter in Arkley’s files)
  • at Tolarno Aug.1994? (according to Spray research card c.1996)
  • P/C Sydney (details in planning files for NGVA Arkley retrospective, 2006)
  • auctioned by Joel Fine Art, Melb., 21 April 2008, lot 35 (ill., details as shown here; est.$120-180,000; sold for $122,000 inc. buyer’s premium)

Exhibited

  • HA Tolarno 10/83, cat.9
  • HA Roslyn Oxley9, 5/84, cat.9
  • Heide 3/95 (‘Downtown’)
  • HA retrospective 2006-7 (shown in Melbourne & Brisbane)

Literature

  • Engberg, ‘Circumstantial Evidence’ (1988)
  • Brown 1989: 38
  • Spray 62-3 (inc. full-page ill.)
  • Carnival 124-6 and Fig.4.25
  • NGVA Arkley audio-guide 2006 (comments by Ray Edgar, Chris McAuliffe: cited above)