ARTHUR BOYD (1920-1999) is one of the most important and unique Australian artists of the 20th Century. His range of work is extraordinarily vast in scope, size and subject matter, ranging from impressionistic landscapes to biblical and historical matters.His works are always incredibly dramatic and eye-catching. Invariably the characters in his works are somewhat devoid of emotion, reminiscent of ‘mannerism’ art in the late 16th Century. The four works by Arthur Boyd are currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia and are representative of particular periods of his extraordinary work.
Arthur Boyd was born at Murrumbenna, Victoria, into an artistic family. When he was 14 years old attended evening classes at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, where he met Jewish artist Yosi Bergner who introduced him to the the works of Dostoyevsky and Kafka and played a major role in influencing Boyd’s humanitarian and social values. Boyd then spent several years living on the Mornington Peninsula with his grandfather, Arthur Meric Boyd, who influenced Arthur Boyd’s particular talent and skill in landscape painting. He then moved to in the inner city of Melbourne painting urban cityscapes. In 1941 he was conscripted and served with the Cartographer Unit of the Australian Army during WW2 until 1944. His paintings of this period, of people deemed unfit for service are startling, and reveal an interest in ‘outsiders’, which was to become a major feature in his later works.
The painting, Figures by a Creek, from this period of Boyd’s life is relatively disturbing and turbulent, almost apocalyptic. A range of human expressions are evident in the painting, including love and grief. It is however, the soulless vacant eyes and naked abandonment in this prison like terrain that is unsettling.
Figures by a Creek (1944)
In the 1940s he became a member of the ‘Angry Penguins’, whose aim was to challenge conventional art and literature in Australia. and introduce a new radical and modern perspective. In the 1940s and 1950s Arthur Boyd traveled extensively through outback Australia. He was profoundly influenced by the landscape as well as indigenous culture. His series of The Bride, a half-caste who was also an ‘outsider’, was painted during this period and became his most successful works.
The paintings Persecuted Loves and Bridegroom going to his Wedding date from this period.
Persecuted Lovers (1957)
Bridegroom going to his Wedding (1958)
In 1959 he was a founding member of the ‘Antipodeans’, which presented figurative work rather than abstracts that were the dominant form at that time. Other ‘Antipodeans’ included John Brack, John Perceval, Charles Blackman and Clifton Pugh. He and his family then moved to London where he remained until 1977. Boyd’s work during this period reveal another evolution. His Nebuchadnezzar series of painting are his responses to the VietnamWar, whilst overall there is recurrent theme of ‘metamorphosis’. He also worked within the theatre, designing sets for opera and ballet. Boyd’s Lovers under a tree with weeping head (1963) is a work painted on a ceramic tile, and aspect of Boyd’s work in the years he was living and working in London. The subject matter of ‘lovers’ and a ‘metamorphosis’ that is apparent in the work and exemplifies his artistic concerns in this period.
Lovers under a tree with weeping head (1963)
Boyd returned to Australia and he and his wife Yvonne bought over 1000 acres of property in Bundanoon on the Shoalhaven River, not far from the town of Nowra, New South Wales. They later gave this property to the Australian Government for the use of artists. He also gave the copyright to all his work to the ‘Bundanoon Trust’ that was set up to care and manage the property.
A truly great Australian artist.