The National Portrait Gallery would like to thank Marc De Jong for his kind assistance with this project.
All Howard Arkley images © The Estate of Howard Arkley, Licensed by Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art
Marc de Jong: Howard’s paintings are punk. They’re punk mainstream.
I studied at Prahran TAFE and then Prahran College, majoring in painting, and he was one of the teachers there. Howard Arkley had outstanding art exhibitions. They were really something special. They weren’t just, “Oh, I’m having another show.” They were like, bang. The whole world stopped for Howard Arkley.
Well, I think from Howard’s exuberance and personality a lot of people got inspired. Howard grew up in suburbia. Howard was involved with suburbia. Howard lived in suburbia, Howard’s studios later on were in suburbia, and Howard would have seen suburbia day-in day-out as being the major reality of Australia.
I have only just started painting suburban paintings in a pixellated style. I’ve done a few suburban paintings in a sort of traditional classic style, but I haven’t really shown them to anyone. We look at his work as being dominated by line, but one of the interesting things about that line is that it’s actually not a line at all, it’s a spray, and it’s more like an atomised abstraction.
When I look at that painting I see both Howard Arkley and Nick Cave, and also I do see an anonymous masklike figure that can represent a generation of that punk 80’s mentality. It’s a lot of attitude in that painting, and that attitude comes from both the sitter and the painter.