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Tag Archives: howard arkley

The Suburbs in Melbourne’s Art

In Melbourne’s suburbs we still live in houses with bullnose verandahs, wooden fretwork and other Victorian architectural ornamentation built on a network of roads laid out in nineteenth century. The dream of domestic bliss was transported to the Australia, much like rabbits, foxes and other introduced species. Now the British home, like the other introduced species has gone feral creating sprawling suburbs around Melbourne and Sydney.

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember' 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember’ 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Mass suburban living was a nineteenth century invention. It’s inventors, the local councils and property developers, had very little experience of suburban life; they might have grown up in a suburb but it was very unlikely that their parents had, and highly improbably that their grandparents had. Without experience, or any other evidence, many assumptions were made about suburban life. One popular assumption about the suburbs are that they are devoid of culture and yet this is where the majority of artists now live.

Just as modernists painters strived to depict the new urban environments of the modern city, the post-modernists strive to depict the suburbs. Generations of artists have grown up in Melbourne’s suburbs and some are now countering the romantic myths of locations of creativity by depicting the suburbs in their art. How to depict the suburbs is an important question for contemporary artists. What is important in a depiction of the suburbs?

Performance artist, Michael Meneghetti told me, “My house looks exactly like a Howard Arkley painting.” Meneghetti lives in Brooklyn, the outer suburb of Melbourne and not the one in NYC. The suburbs with all their ‘featurism’ was the main complaint of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. Yet the Howard Arkley celebrates this featurism of the patchwork of patterns.

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

In Melbourne sculptor, Jason Waterhouse plays with the familiar shape of houses and by distorting the materials of suburban life. Urban intervention artist, James Voller installs photographs of suburban houses on suburban objects. And Adrian Doyle has long used the suburb as the central feature of his art.

There aren’t that many, in Melbourne. I could include Reg Mombassa’s pop-surrealist images mythologise suburban landscapes and Ian Strange’s (aka Kid Zoom) painting, film, photography, sculpture, installation and site-specific interventions involving suburban houses. Many artists must still be in denial about their suburban roots for there is a lot of anxiety and paranoia in the assumptions about suburban life.

In his recent exhibition of paintings and installations, ‘Never Forget to Remember’ at Dark Horse Experiment, Doyle returns to the pitched roof form of the suburban house. Doyle’s ‘Coin House’ consists of a basic house form made of one dollar coins on a marble slab. It is the obvious image for suburbia but does it tell the enough of the story of suburbia? Perhaps, Doyle’s patchwork of images in his paintings are better at depicting the diversity housed in the uniform buildings. His paintings of suburban existence tries to get that mix of ‘sarcastic nostalgia’ in a mix of techniques and paint. Of course, Doyle’s suburbia is a matter of nostalgia, memories and dreams because he has lived in the Melbourne’s inner city for years now.

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Top Arts Top Artists 2012

Every artist is influenced by proceeding generations of artists – who are the artists that influence local young artists?

I’m at the annual Top Arts exhibition of final year high school student art on the 3rd floor of the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre (Federation Square). I’m trying to think of what I will write in this blog – I’ve written about the exhibition in previous years, it is worth paying attention to young artists but it is always so hard to write about group exhibitions. Praising the exhibition for its youth and talent is obvious, mentioning a couple of artists that catch my attention would not improve it and vague statements like “the drawing and photography were strong” wouldn’t help either. So, I looked at who are influences on these young artists.

I looked at the artists named in their artist’s statements. Not all the young artists named artists in their artist’s statements but at least a third did. Some artists mentioned two artists. (This may not be a complete list of all the artists named.)

Ansel Adams was the only artist named twice. The following photographers are also named as influences: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Larry Clark, Bill Henson, Annie Leibovitz, Duane Michals, and Edward Weston.

The local artists named as influences are: Abdul Abdullah, Howard Arkley, Del Kathryn Barton, Bill Henson, Carlo Golin, Jeffery Smart, Stelarc, Justin Lee Williams (fashion designer), Brett Whitley and Ah Xian.

Young video makers in the exhibition named film directors, Tim Burton and James Cameron as influences.

The other artist’s named as influences are: Audrey Kawasaki, Käthe Kollwitz, Rene Magritte, Nam June Paik, Paula Rego, Genndy Tartakovsky, and Gaun Wei.

As would be expected, this generation of young artists are not influenced by any old masters; many of the artists are still alive, all are 20th or 21st century artists but still not that many women artists make the list. It is good to see so many local artists named as influences. Americans photographers dominate photographic influences but the rest of the international artists named come from around the world.


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