Good Weekend Art Column

Dale Hickey – Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Published February 23, 2019
Dale Hickey, Untitled 8, 2018, acrylic on board 90 x 120cm

Artist: Dale Hickey

Lives: Fitzroy North, Melbourne

Age: 81

Represented by: Niagara Galleries, (no Sydney representation)

His thing: Paintings of the studio designed to resemble geometric abstractions.

Our take: Dale Hickey is one of the last survivors of that generation of Australian abstract and conceptual artists celebrated in The Field – the landmark exhibition of 1968 that opened the new National Gallery of Victoria on St. Kilda Road. Last year, for the 50th anniversary of that exhibition, the NGV staged The Field Revisited, bringing together all the original works that could be located.

Hickey was represented by brilliantly coloured grids of geometric patterning, with shadows that suggested a three-dimensional aspect. From the late 1960s to the 1980s Hickey would experiment with many different styles before settling on a series of stripped-down portrayals of his own studio in which easels, windows, paintings and tables created patterns of flat, overlapping rectangles.

Like so much of Hickey’s work these paintings might be seen as both abstract and figurative. They are ‘art about art’, but also meditations on the solitary life of the painter, on the search for inspiration that haunts every artist.

Hickey’s new exhibition at Niagara Galleries, his first in eight years, finds him still working through this idea, looking back over his career, and adding playful elements of landscape and brilliant colour. The forms are wilfully ambiguous, the moods varied, the painting as crisp and precise as ever. An older work, A dog’s breakfast (1990) is the largest and gloomiest painting in the show, and may suggest a bleak philosophy of art. All the other pictures date from last year, and are notably more up-beat in tone.

Can I afford it?

The most expensive work in the show is the oil, A dog’s breakfast (244cm by 198cm), at $85,000. The other nine paintings in acrylic, (approximately 120cm by 90cm), are priced at $35,000 each.

Dale Hickey has been around for so long it’s surprising to learn that his record price is only $48,000. This is partly explained by the fact that nothing substantial has come up at auction since his previous exhibition. On the other hand it would be unthinkable for an American artist of his generation, with works in all the major public collections, to be selling so cheaply. Unlike real estate, the Australian art market strongly favours the buyer over the seller.

Where can I have a squiz?

Niagara Galleries, 245 Punt Road, Richmond, 5 February – 2 March, 2019.


Published in The Good Weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March, 2019