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Howard Arkley archive

Identifier(s): MS 14217


Scope and contents

Howard Arkley (1951-1999) is acknowledged as one of the most important artists in contemporary Australian art. His work is held by many major art galleries, and is widely exhibited.

The Howard Arkley Archive was acquired by the State Library of Victoria from the Arkley Estate in 2011. The Collection has been arranged into 9 series, and each series is divided into sections reflecting themes and subjects of works, or formats and chronology.

Series 1: Art works

This very large collection of mostly loose works consists of 1715 individual items. These have been numbered with a running number appearing after the Archive’s generic (or parent) accession number (MS 14217). Each item therefore, has a unique number which will serve to identify, find and cite it. Attempts were made to physically organise this material in thematic order, but this was not always possible because more material was found as the processing evolved. The numbering therefore reflects the order in which the material is physically stored, and this list should serve as a thematic treatment of the collection.

Many of the pieces are signed and dated by Arkley, so can be thought of as art works in their own right. Others are not signed but stand as quite finished pieces nonetheless. Still others are rough sketches, doodles, stencils, or studies for his paintings. Included in this Series are ‘interventions’, where Arkley has over-drawn on published books (of note is the series of Mills & Boon books), pamphlets or advertising material. Again, a number of these are signed and dated. Through the material here (and in the sketchbooks in Series 2) we see the evolution of Arkley’s style. Evident are the influences in his student years (1970-74) of surrealism, colour field and the work of Paul Klee. He moved on to the use of ornament and abstraction in the mid 1970s to early 1980s. Then the influences of graffiti and punk appear by the mid 1980s. We see the use of the air brush, which became his signature method of applying paint, as well as the evolution of recurring motifs, like the exploding box, cacti, heads and masks (including Zappo Head), and eventually suburban houses.

Series 2: Sketchbooks

There are 33 sketchbooks in the Arkley Collection and they document a range of his ideas and projects from the late 1960s through to 1998 (the year before his death). Almost half of them date from his student years 1970-1974. This listing sets out the sketchbooks in chronological order.

Series 3: Visual Diaries The Collection contains 48 notebooks, albums and assembled (thematic) loose material of source material kept by the artist, dating from 1975 to 1995. Many of these 'visual diaries' are essentially compilations of source material, but most of them also contain planning notes and ideas. According to scholars, (see Arkley Works website:, these diaries provide a rich resource for developing a deeper understanding of Arkley's planning processes, reference to other artists and reading. Arkley himself indicated that he used these books as a resource for his own art, culling ideas and images for works sometimes produced many years after he first included them in his studio books.

Worth noting is that Arkley did not always assemble press clippings and other source material into 'albums' as such, so there is quite a mass of clippings which are loose. These have been roughly arranged, and are listed in Series 4.6 - 4.10.

Series 4-7

The content of these sections is evident form the list that follows. Though worth noting is that there is very little material that can be called ‘personal papers’. The Archive does not contain very much correspondence, written diaries or other written notes.

Series 8: Photography

The slides, prints and negatives here have been individually numbered. Like the loose material in Series 1, they have been numbered with a running number appearing after the Archive’s generic (or parent) accession number (MS 14217). Each item therefore, has a unique number which will serve to identify, find and cite it. The subject matter is evident from the list. Again, it is worth noting that there are very few personal, or family, photographs here.


The website ‘Arkley Works' ( created by Dr John Gregory has been invaluable in the cataloguing of the material in this Archive, as was his book 'Carnival in Suburbia: the Art of Howard Arkley' (2006). Also of great help was 'Spray: the work of Howard Arkley' (1997, 2001), by Ashley Crawford and Ray Edgar.


  • 1968-1999


  • Arkley, Howard, 1951-1999 (Person)


13.7 linear metres (91 boxes)



Related materials

Related material at MS 13760, Papers of Gwen Lewis (nee Arkley).


  • Arkley, Howard, 1951-1999 (Person)
  • Burton, Alison (Person)
  • Clarke, Tony, 1954- (Person)
  • Davila, Juan, 1946- (Person)
  • Gower, Elizabeth, 1946- (Person)
  • Rooney, Robert, 1937-2017 (Person)
  • Tyndall, Peter, 1951- (Person)
  • Williams, Caroline, 1945- (Person)
Guide to the Howard Arkley archive
Olga Tsara
November 2012
Description rules
Dacs, Aacr2, Lcsh
Language of description
Script of description

Revision statements

  • November 2012: finding aid revision description not supplied

Repository details

Part of the Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria Repository

328 Swanston Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000 Australia
03 8664 7002