‘Howard Arkley: White + Black’, Tolarno, Sept.1995

HA White + Black 1995

‘Howard Arkley: White + Black: 20 Years Work on Paper and Canvas 1975-1995’, Tolarno Galleries, 121 Victoria Street, Fitzroy, 1-30 Sept.1995

This show was a refreshing change for Arkley, increasingly understood by this stage of his career in terms of bright colour and suburban subject-matter. Instead, this show recalled his beginnings as a minimalist, and drew attention to the importance of black and white throughout his career.

In the elegant catalogue, Andrew Sayers, then Curator of Australian Drawings at the NGA in Canberra, emphasised the continuities in Arkley’s work, identifying the artist’s early aphorism, ‘I draw rather than paint’, as crucial to understanding his entire oeuvre.[1]

In yet another mini-survey of his career to date,[2] Arkley filled Tolarno’s spacious new Fitzroy gallery with an extensive selection of monochrome works (41 in all), including five of his early ‘white paintings’ (several never seen since their first exhibition 20 years earlier); various related works on paper also from the mid 1970s; a set of ‘Mills & Boon’ drawings from 1984; a considerable number of recent sprayed works on paper, including suburban images; and a variant of his work-on-paper mural Primitive, first exhibited in 1981.

Reviewers were generally appreciative, although Robyn McKenzie, in the Melbourne Age, puzzled over the issues of copying and repetition raised by Arkley’s approach.[3]

Works shown were as listed below (with 1995 sizes and prices in brackets); despite quite detailed records and a fairly comprehensive set of installation photos, many of the early works on paper cannot be identified with certainty; on the other hand, the five ‘white’ paintings and a number of other works shown are now in identified collections. The majority of the works are identified in the exhibition check-list as in acrylic on either canvas or paper, the only exceptions being the Mills & Boon drawings (cat.nos.25-32, noted as ‘black-fibre tipped pen on printed page’).

(photo: installation shot showing, from left, cat.nos. 3, 38-41, 4 and 5 [source: Monash Visual Arts slide library])

1.      Operations, Notch, Trim, Spread 1975 (169 x 240.5; $17,000) = Operations, Notch, Trim 1975

2.      A Piece Called Nerve (1975) (171 x 240; $17,000)

3.      Inventory (1975) (180 x 163; $17,000)

4.      Organic Model 1976 (211 x 160.5; $17,000) = Organic Model (Intuitive Reason) (1976)

5.      Recording Model 1976 (211.5 x 162.5; $17,000) = Pauses (Interchronic) 1976

6.      Liquid Tracing (1977) [W/P] (36 x 28; $1,500): unidentified

7.      Oriental (Wave Study) (1975) [W/P] (36 x 28; $1,500): unidentified; possibly = Oriental Line Study 1975 [W/P]

8.      Actuality Study 1975 (36 x 28; $1,500): possibly = Study for Actuality [Monash #1] (1974) [W/P]: and possibly also identical with the work on paper with this title (dated 1975) donated to the ‘Fabric of Labour’ auction, Trades Hall, 31/3/99 (unidentified)

9.      A Primary Organic Model (1976) [W/P] (36 x 28; $1,500): unidentified

10.   Leaves of the Leaf series (1) (1975) [W/P] (36 x 28; $1,500): unidentified

11.   Measured Model (E) (1976) [W/P] (23 x 17; $950): unidentified

12.   Circular Model (1976) [W/P] (23 x 17; $950): unidentified

13.   Measured Model (1976) [W/P] (23 x 17; $950): unidentified

14.   A Pair of Leaves (1975) [W/P] (23 x 17; $950) (possibly auctioned in 2002)

15.   Organic Model Study 1977 [W/P] (23 x 17; $950)

16.   Large Organic Model (1977) [W/P] (76 x 56; $1,800)

17.   The Orient (1975) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

18.   Head Satre (1994) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

19.   Skulls and Bones (1994) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

20.   Corner House B/W (1994) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

21.   Neocammgii (1993) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

22.   Primitive c.1982-1995 (5 panels, each 160 x 121; $15,000) = Primitive (1995) [W/P] (now City of Port Phillip Collection, St Kilda)

23.   Notocactis (1993) [W/P] (75 x 56; $1,800): unidentified

24.   Head Baudelaire 1994 (75 x 56: $1,800): identified here as Mask for Baudelaire (1994) [W/P], 1st exh. Dick Bett Gallery, Hobart, 8/94

[NB cat.nos.25-32 are all pages from Arkley's Mills & Boon books]

25.   Lad’s Love 9 (1984) ($400)

26.   Wintersbride 13 (1984) ($400)

27.   The Chateau of Fire 23 (1984) ($400)

28.   The Chateau of Fire 43 (1984) ($400)

29.   The Chateau of Fire 9 (1984) ($400)

30.   Wintersbride 9 (1984) ($400)

31.   Courage, My Heart 19 (1984) ($400)

32.   First, the Doctor 9 (1984) ($400)

33.   Supa Room Study (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

34.   Cacti and Succulent (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

35.   Black and White Icon (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

36.   Cartographer (After Durer) (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

37.   Room Within a Home (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

38.   Corner House (Study) (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

39.   Tudor Village (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800) (now NGA, Canberra)

40.   Ketoacidosis and Head (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)

41.   Letter-box Home (1995) [W/P] (160 x 121; $4,800)


[1] Sayers 1995: 4; Arkley’s comment first appeared in his statement for his April 1975 Tolarno show.

[2] Cf. HA Quentin 2/85, HA ‘Casual Works’ 1988 (200 Gertrude Sreet/Brisbane), and HA Monash 1991.

[3] For extended discussion of these complex questions in relation to Arkley’s oeuvre, see Carnival 79ff.; for reviews of the Tolarno show, see 1995 biblio. entries under McKenzie, Rooney and Usher.