” Few Australian artists have cast their vision across so broad a landscape of ideas and traditions, both real and mythological, as Arthur Boyd and few have sustained their creative powers with such force and energy.” Edmond Capon Director Art Gallery of New South Wales
Arthur Boyd was one of Australia’s most widely respected and prolific artists. He was born in 1920 in Melbourne, Victoria and was part of a dynamic generation of artists and thinkers, which included Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, and Joy Hester. Boyd was brought up in a lively family of practicing artists, with whom he studied and developed his painting, printmaking and pottery skills. The garden and the children ran wild in this bohemian family of artists, and Boyd’s unworldly father awakened his social conscience, teaching him the concept of not hurting any living creature. When Boyd was six years old, his father’s pottery studio was totally destroyed by fire, a disaster that financially ruined them. The slow recovery of the studio after the fire, combined with tension between the parents, affected the young Arthur deeply. It was his father, a gentle but damaged human, who would ultimately become the Ur-figure for many of Boyd’s later paintings. Images of suffering or flawed messiah figures: cataleptic bodies prostrate in death; resurrected beings wafting in the smoke of factory chimneys;
the miserable Bebuchadnezzar suffering in the wilderness; and a triumphant Moses leading his people out of the Australian wilderness.
Boyd attended night classes at the National Gallery Art School, Melbourne in 1935, and started painting with his grandfather, Arthur Merric Boyd. He liked to touch the paint, using his hands and fingers to push and pull the oily medium like a potter moulding clay. Galleries sometimes were concerned that visitors touching them would damage the lumps of paint sticking out from his canvases, but he wanted to share his passion for painting and his compassion for humanity. “Let them touch the paintings,” he ordered. He hated to be called an artist,” that phoney romantic” description he called it, saying instead he was “a painter, a tradesman.” Boyd was a painter’s painter, whose themes of loss, vulnerability, cripples, biblical misfits, outcast lovers and wounded soldiers, intrigued scholars with their complexity.
His early works drew on his wartime experiences and his travels throughout central Australia and Aboriginal communities. Later his paintings drew from personal experience, and reflect family relationships, values and religious beliefs, and symbolize human passions such as love and aggression. The Australian landscape and the Bible also inspired him. By 1959, he found favour with London critics and moved to England before commencing his well-known Nebuchadnezzar series. His expressionistic wartime paintings, with their images of cripples and those deemed unfit for war service, were painful images of the dispossessed and the outcast. Two of these paintings established his reputation, ‘The Mockers’, and ‘The Mourners’ of 1945 used biblical subjects as an outcry against the concentration camps of World War II. Today, they remain wonderfully vehement pictures; their heartfelt anguish all the stronger for the awkward clumsiness of Boyd’s figurative drawing.
After the war Boyd turned to the Australian landscape, travelling to Victoria’s Wimmera country and central Australia. There his distress at seeing Aborigines in such a destitute state at Alice Springs in 1951, resulted in the compelling Love, Marriage, and Death of a Half-caste series. He later said: “I’d like to feel that through my work there is a possibility of making a contribution to a social progression or enlightenment.” The Bride series launched Boyd onto the international stage, and after participating in the 1959 Antipodean Manifesto exhibition, he left Melbourne for England where he lived for 11 years
In the 1970s, Boyd rediscovered the Australian landscape and bought the property, Bundanon, in Australia’s southeast. Many of Boyd’s 1980s landscape pictures were painted on the Shoalhaven River, NSW, where he returned to live in the mid-1980s. In such later works, Boyd became more technically accomplished in his painting than in his earlier work. Nevertheless, his most telling images generally always reassert the basic freedom of painting and humanity’s capacity to endure, however occasionally self-deluded we may be. In 1993, the Australian Government accepted the gift of Bundanon, which at the time was valued at $20 million. Boyd also donated many of his greatest works to Museums. It was Boyd’s hope that the natural beauty of Bundanon and the Shoalhaven River would be preserved for the inspiration of future generations, and he lived long enough to see many young artists enjoying temporary residencies there.
Biography by Pierre