Arthur Boyd by Steve Lopes

Artist Profile - - CONTENTS - Story Steve LopeS

Boyd made his name as a pas­sion­ate ex­pres­sive painter; he ex­plored emo­tional depths that were of­ten un­com­fort­able and at times bru­tal.

The new ex­hi­bi­Tion, Arthur Boyd: agony and ec­stasy, at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia Can­berra is a ma­jor show­case of Boyd’s art in­clud­ing more than 100 works across di­verse me­dia: paint­ings, prints, draw­ings, ce­ramic tiles and sculp­tures, and ta­pes­tries. The fo­cus is on Boyd as an in­tense po­etic vi­sion­ary who was ca­pa­ble of plumb­ing the depths and vi­cis­si­tudes of hu­man emo­tions.

This show is a great op­por­tu­nity to re­visit the Boyd legacy and see first-hand the con­tri­bu­tion this lauded painter and print­maker made to the vis­ual arts. Boyd lived both in Aus­tralia and for the later part of his life, in Bri­tain. He was widely known as a lead­ing mod­ern Aus­tralian mas­ter for his paint­ing but in this ar­ti­cle I would like to fo­cus on his col­lab­o­ra­tion with another well known ex­pat – the poet Peter Porter OAM. Boyd made his name as a pas­sion­ate ex­pres­sive painter; he ex­plored emo­tional depths that were of­ten un­com­fort­able and at times bru­tal. Amongst some of the works on show will be a range of prints from the col­lab­o­ra­tions he made with Porter, who lived in the UK from 1951 from the age of 22. Porter teamed up with Boyd a num­ber of times and the com­bi­na­tion of the po­ets’s pierc­ing lit­er­ary evo­ca­tions and the artist’s sting­ing vi­sions cre­ated works that main­tain a po­tent rel­e­vancy to­day.

Since Boyd’s death his aware­ness amongst younger au­di­ences has faded slightly – maybe not as ‘slick’ a painter as one needs to be nowa­days to cut it in con­tem­po­rary cir­cles. But if you care­fully ex­am­ine these in­ci­sive and dark works, you can see that he had such a sharp vis­ual in­tel­lect and aware­ness and so did Porter. In fact, both have in­flu­enced many cur­rent cre­ators, mu­si­cians and writ­ers – some like Nick Cave, another Aussie ex­pat

While the Aus­tralian land­scape di­rectly in­forms some works, the em­pha­sis is on the way that Boyd en­gages with hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

have found in­spi­ra­tion from Porter’s writ­ing.

It’s not hard to be trans­fixed by Porter’s amal­gam of ev­ery­day syn­tax with a bru­tally hon­est jux­ta­po­si­tion and as­sess­ment of mod­ern greed, envy and the so­cial ills of the day. While the Aus­tralian land­scape di­rectly in­forms some of the art­works, the em­pha­sis is on the way that Boyd en­gages with hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence— fear, love, sex and death which be­came fre­quent sub­jects in his imagery. These topics are what Boyd painted daily or was driven to paint through­out his ca­reer. These sub­jects are not so eas­ily palat­able to au­di­ences, but it was the will­ing­ness to explore these hu­man foibles and our own aber­ra­tions that made these cre­ators im­por­tant. The bit­ing al­le­goric com­po­nent of Boyd/Porter books and col­lab­o­ra­tions ar­guably haven’t been seen since—dur­ing their height these two op­er­ated col­lec­tively as a long-dis­tance na­tional con­science.

Some of the projects they col­lab­o­rated on took form in lim­ited edi­tion books which in­cluded: ‘Jonah’ (1973), ‘The lady and the uni­corn’ (1974) Nar­cis­sus (1984) and ‘Mars’ (1988). This was a highly suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion based on friend­ship, mu­tual re­spect and an un­der­stand­ing that their in­de­pen­dent vi­sions in words and print­mak­ing would be al­lowed to flour­ish side by side. Boyd’s etch­ings ac­com­pa­ny­ing the po­ems re­veal a mas­tery of arabesque line and fine de­tail in draw­ing com­bined with vel­vety black aquatint that shifts in tone. In ‘The lady and the uni­corn’ the port­fo­lio as a whole com­bined in­tense pas­sions with a cor­re­spond­ing del­i­cacy of touch. Boyd’s work cap­tured a feel­ing for the sa­cred and pro­fane of the story: of the myth­i­cal uni­corn; the out­sider, the only an­i­mal left off Noah’s ark, and much sought af­ter by the em­peror.

The uni­corn falls in love with a lady who be­trays him to the hunters. Hunted down, the uni­corn dies Christ-like, for love. Yet he re­mains etched brightly in the mind as a sym­bol of undy­ing pu­rity and com­pas­sion. ‘The lady and The uni­corn’ se­ries re­lates di­rectly to ‘ the caged painter’ se­ries, also 1973–74, re­veal­ing the tremen­dous out­pour­ing of work in these years. It’s safe to say that both cre­ators ben­e­fited from work­ing with each other and gained from the ex­pe­ri­ence. Porter him­self wrote: “Only when I first be­gan to work with Arthur Boyd did I find that there is a ful­fill­ing way of col­lab­o­rat­ing, and that it re­quires each artist to go his own way, the re­sul­tant works be­ing coun­ter­pointed rather than har­monised. Stravin­sky as­serted that he liked work­ing to com­mis­sion, but added that the artist should make sure that he was com­mis­sioned to carry out what he had al­ready de­cided he wanted to do.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence with Boyd has been at the op­po­site end of pa­tron­age - I have been given the sub­ject, but al­lowed to de­velop it as I saw fit, be­ing sim­ply plonked down on a wide-rang­ing theme and told to write po­ems to it. Arthur would then do the pic­tures in what­ever form he fan­cied and the end­prod­uct would be the two sets of art­works

is­sued to­gether in a book. My de­scrip­tion of this process, of course, begs many ques­tions, in­clud­ing that of how much value the fi­nal book might have, but it un­der­lines the au­ton­omy of imag­i­na­tion which I be­lieve to be es­sen­tial to any worth­while col­lab­o­ra­tion.” The NGA has said that this show is not a ret­ro­spec­tive but rather pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to take a close look at a num­ber of Arthur Boyd’s work that has never or rarely been pre­vi­ously ex­hib­ited. There are ten of these ‘col­lab­o­ra­tive’ works on show in the lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion at Can­berra. Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ec­stasy will pro­vide a rare op­por­tu­nity to con­sider in depth, the artist’s work from The Na­tional Gallery’s di­verse col­lec­tion. EX­HIB­TION Arthur Boyd: Agony and Ec­stasy Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia 5 Septem­ber to 9 Novem­ber, 2014

www.nga.gov.au

Boyd’s etch­ings ac­com­pa­ny­ing the po­ems, re­veal a mas­tery of arabesque line and fine de­tail.

01 Mars, ‘Mar’s Divin­ity’, 1998, ink draw­ing, Lon­don: An­dre Deutsch Lim­ited. Print. 17 02 Mars, 1988, oil on can­vas, ti­tle de­sign

03 Jonah, 1973, out­side cover image, Lon­don: Secker and War­burg 04 Mars, 1988, oil on can­vas, ti­tle de­sign 05 Mars, 1988, oil on can­vas, ti­tle de­sign

06 Mars, ‘White Feathers’, 1998, ink draw­ing, Lon­don: An­dre Deutsch Lim­ited. Print. 64

07 Mars, ‘Vul­can’s Mar­riage’, 1998, ink draw­ing, Lon­don: An­dre Deutsch Lim­ited. Print. 30

08 Mars, ‘Mars Son­net No.2’, 1998, ink draw­ing, Lon­don: An­dre Deutsch Lim­ited. Print. 66 Courtesy the artist’s es­tate and the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.