Sunday, 12 November 2017


“Once people come to Australia, they join the team.” - Tony Abbott 

Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd AC OBE (24 July 1920 – 24 April 1999) was a leading Australian painter of the late 20th century. Boyd’s work ranges from impressionist renderings of Australian landscape to starkly expressionist figuration, and many canvases feature both. Several famous works set Biblical stories against the Australian landscape, such as “The Expulsion”, now at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Having a strong social conscience, Boyd’s work deals with humanitarian issues and universal themes of love, loss and shame. For example his “brides” series of paintings examine the issues of race and race relations, what it means to “Australian” and the prejudices of whites directed against blacks and half-castes. Boyd was a member of the Antipodeans, a group of Melbourne painters that also included Clifton Pugh, David Boyd, John Brack, Robert Dickerson, John Perceval and Charles Blackman.

The Boyd family artistic dynasty includes painters, sculptors, architects and other arts professionals, commencing with Boyd’s grandfather Arthur Merric Boyd, Boyd’s father Merric and mother Doris, uncles Penleigh Boyd and Martin Boyd, and brothers Guy and David. Mary Boyd, his sister and also a painter, married first John Perceval, and then later Sidney Nolan, both artists. Boyd's wife, Yvonne Boyd (née Lennie) is also a painter; as are their children Jamie, Polly, and Lucy.

In 1993, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd gave family properties comprising 1,100 hectares (2,700 acres) at Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River to the people of Australia. Held in trust, Boyd later donated further property, artwork, and the copyright to all of his work. The ‘Shoalhaven’ series of Boyd’s painting are iconic of the spirit of Australian landscape.

Boyd was a master at manipulating elements to express himself. He developed new techniques when he was still a teenager and later changed technique depending on his preferred style, media, location and what he was depicting. He would often use loose strokes of thickly coated brushes. He applied paint with his fingers and palm because it is quicker, while the body contact directly connected him with the painting. He believed this allowed for a greater sense of freedom and pleasure from the act of painting. His canvases often show this dynamism and testify to the involvement of the artist with his work with his body and soul.

The Bride series has rightfully earned a canonical place in Australian art history, due to its powerful pictorialisation of issues of social justice, rendered in a poetic style that blends figuration with an abstracted surrealism. It has been suggested that “The Bride series constitutes, together with Nolan’s two series on Burke and Wills and Ned Kelly, the most powerful visual images to emerge from Australian painting... in this century.” (U Hoff, The Art of Arthur BOYD, London, 1986, p.22.).

The original title of the series was “Love, Marriage and Death of a Half-Caste”, a title that was deliberately ambiguous. Rather than presenting a simplistic symbolism of a longed for union between white and black Australia, Boyd avoided a reductive simplification of the racial issues by making both the bride and bridegroom half-caste. The complexity of the narrative relations was deepened by the doubling of the bride figure in the form of an impossible phantom bride, who is the object of a dream-like desire that is destined to remain forever unfulfilled. Through the cycle of missed gazes that is the emotional core of this painting, Boyd evoked unfulfilled longing and a sense of isolation within the compositional embrace of the figures, in the process transposing contemporary social issues into poetic and painterly allegory.

The central theme of the Bride paintings is the dream of integration through love, an ideal which is stripped of its romanticism by the culture of racism and violence that is the fundamental reason preventing the lovers from union. Boyd first became aware of the plight of the indigenous Australians when he visited the Simpson Desert in Central Australia in 1951.

1 comment:

  1. I think the great joy of working and/or socialising together with other artists is that art would otherwise be a very lonely business. Arthur Boyd was fortunate to have The other Antipodeans to support him in his aesthetic choices, or simply to drink beer with. I presume he enjoyed the input of Brack, Pugh, Blackman, Perceval and Dickerson, whenever he was around.