Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1951 – 1999
1996 synthetic polymer paint on canvas synthetic polymer paint on canvas
174.5 h x 134.5 w cm
Accession No: NGA 2001.64
© The Estate of Howard Arkley
Howard Arkley is best known for his representation of the Australian suburbs, for his exuberant, theatrical paintings of suburban homes and environments. In his dramatic, hallucinatory Floral exterior, he creates a sense of suburban ‘exotic’ in order to beautify the domestic arena. It is as though so-called ordinary, everyday existence has been transmuted into the extraordinary.
Arkley has drawn upon a wide range of sources in the evolution of his vision – from an abiding fascination with Pop Art through to an avalanche of material relating to the home, including magazines, real estate brochures, and interior decoration and do-it-yourself manuals. With humour and pathos, he discovered ways of entering into and amplifying obsessions with home and garden.
Wallpaper, for example, is traditionally a means of introducing a decorative element to interior rooms, the motifs of flowers and leaves providing a way to bring nature inside. In Floral exterior, Arkley’s reversal of the florid wallpapering in a range of vivid hues across house, sky, letterbox and lawn brilliantly conveys the merging of cultivated interior with exterior to evoke a dream-like state of mind. In contrast to the stereotype of the predictable ‘suburban dream’ of the 1950s, the artist appears to suggest that the self-contained exteriors of the classic suburban home might in fact mask hidden eccentricities and imaginative interior worlds.
A particularly striking aspect of this work is the cloud of bold red-on-pink motifs behind the letterbox. Certainly one of the most expressive flourishes in an Arkley painting, it is as if the stencilled wallpaper has suddenly given rise to a new language of signs and symbols that bursts forth with joyful abandon.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002