Arthur Dagley was born in Hastings in 1919, his family moved to Tauranga when he was a toddler. His father owned a drapery shop in Devonport Road, where the young Arthur worked after he left school. His mother was a gifted amateur painter who exhibited with the Auckland Society of Arts and she encouraged her son’s interest in art from an early age.
Although widely regarded as a self-taught artist Arthur did undertake classes and various courses with a number of artists and tutors including; Claudia Jarman, Paul Olds, Rudi Gopas, Louise Henderson, Garth Tapper and Colin McCahon. All of whom influenced the artist and assisted in the continual development of Dagley’s unique style.
He began exhibiting regularly at the Tauranga Art Gallery in Elizabeth Street from 1966 and at the Hamilton Art Gallery from 1967. He was a finalist in the 1968 Benson and Hedges Art Award and became a full time artist in the same year.
Warwick Brown wrote: “More than once when his work has been critically reviewed, Dagley has been called the most underrated painter in New Zealand. Some of the reasons for this may be his lifetime residence in Tauranga, a city with no art gallery, his infrequent exhibitions in the main centres; the fact that he is largely self-taught, and his prolific output of minor as well as serious works. Like Binney, Dagley has laid claim to his own part of the New Zealand environment – the Port of Tauranga. Dagley has had a lifetime fascination with shipping. He is not a celebrant of the open sea and the hardy mariner, but rather an observer of ships at rest in port”. Dagley also produced a number of abstract works, both paintings and sculptural pieces, many based on harbour and port themes.
The landscape has always been a central part of New Zealand’s artistic tradition. This was a subject that Dagley depicted with his own unique vision, experimenting with various styles and techniques. He was concerned not with the ‘picturesque’ but with the feeling and atmosphere of the place. It was often the effect of weather on the land, like the windswept dunes and the heat reflected in the landscape or the snowbound land that inspired his work.
Portraits and figurative narratives formed another important part of Arthur Dagley’s practice. He was not a portrait painter in the traditional sense. His were ‘character portraits’, not depicting specific individuals but rather types of characters he had observed. Many of these works distort scale and space in order to evoke a sense of the subject’s character and illustrate Dagley’s commentary on the scene.
Arthur Dagley worked as a full time artist for several decades and has left a lasting legacy with a uniquely Bay of Plenty flavour. He continued painting and exhibiting right up until his passing on 1st August 1998.