Born into Australia’s foremost art dynasty, Arthur Boyd had an upbringing that was heavily influenced by the practices of his artisan relatives, all of whom were painters, potters, sculptors, musicians, and architects. Having adopted his family’s passion for the arts and developing his own highly expressive and personal style he went on to become one of the most celebrated painters in Australian cultural history, preferring to be called a tradesman as opposed to an artist for the way he constantly experimented with art materials and mediums.
Arthur Boyd was born in Murrumbeena, Victoria in 1920. Studying painting and pottery within the family, he received no formal artistic training except for the night classed he attended for one year at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne.
With his formal education ending at the age of fourteen, Boyd earned a living as an assistant to the local builders and carpenters. It was during this time that he spent his weekends and holidays painting impressionist landscapes and portraits of the places and the people that surrounded him in Murrumbeena. During one of his many trips to the local bushland Boyd met Wilfred McCulloch with whom he established a close association due to the common interest they shared in the work of the French post-impressionists. The two men would often make excursions together to an artist’s camp near Cape Schanck, Victoria. Here Boyd adopted and developed his innovative palette-knife technique to produce many of his seascapes and landscapes. It was a technique that was to become his signature style of painting, taught to him by his grandfather and mentor, Arthur Merric Boyd.
Boyd’s relationship with Wilfred McCulloch ended when McCulloch was killed in the Second World War in 1942. As a result of his friend’s death and after himself being admitted to a military hospital when he was conscripted to serve in the Army Survey Corp from 1941-1944, Boyd’s painted depictions of the war began to reflect great sadness and a psychologically damaged persona. His disturbing image, The Mockers (1945) is a true example of this and serves to reflect how Boyd was influenced by the psychological, expressionistic art of Christopher Wood. Ultimately it was the devastating effect that the war had on Boyd’s work and personality that gave way to a particular vision and highly expressive and personal style which was to characterize the artist’s paintings from the 1940s onwards.
After his time serving in the war, Boyd married a former student of the Melbourne National Gallery School, Yvonne Lennie. He returned to Murrumbeena and founded the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery workshop with John Perceval and Peter Herbst. Boyd used this time to develop his skills in pottery, sculpture and painting constantly experimenting with materials and using a combination of oil, tempera and resin to reflect his modes of expression. Making pottery to augment his income from painting, Arthur Boyd’s explorations as a painter-ceramicist generated a series of terracotta masterpieces that have become highly significant to the Australian and international art world.
Many of Boyd’s work was drawn from personal experience, symbolizing the human emotions of love and aggression and conveying family relationships, values and religious beliefs. In creating his masterpieces the artist drew from a wide range of influences including German expressionism, surrealism and the northern European painting tradition. He was also influenced by the artists who were associated with the art patrons, John and Sunday Reed such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Josl Bergner.
As a practicing artist Boyd produced several series of work, often varying each series’ theme and content. During his time in Murrumbeena his work entered a ‘Breughel’ period in which he painted the everyday scenes of life within mining towns and landscapes crowded with local folk. Following this phase of artistic interest, Boyd’s work soon took on a religious approach and based on his mother’s teachings he produced a collection of 15 biblical artworks. The series was painted in tempera as a mural which occupied the four walls of the dining room of his uncle, Martin Boyd’s home. A series of fine landscapes soon followed of the northern Victorian and Wimmera Districts. The artist’s tempera Wimmera series shows a particular emphasis on large expanses of sky and land.
Boyd’s most well-known work is perhaps his Half Caste Bride Series. Reflecting influences by the early surrealist paintings of Chagall he was inspired to create this work of art after making a trip to Alice Springs in Central Australia in 1953 where he witnessed the day to day life of indigenous Australians. With this famous work helping to bring him greater recognition within the Australian art world Boyd joined the Antipodeans Group in the late 50s and went on to represent Australia with Arthur Streeton at the Venice Biennale in 1958.
Following the death of his father in 1960 Arthur Boyd and his family moved to London. Here he achieved significant success with his art which was often displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery. During his time in London Boyd explored the medium of printmaking, producing etchings, lithographs and illustrated books and began another well known series of works, Nebuchadnezzar in 1966.
Returning to Australia in 1971 as one of Australia’s most highly regarded artists, Arthur Boyd moved to Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River where his paintings depicted the depth and the majesty of the landscapes that surrounded him.
Referred to by the Prime Minister, John Howard as a, “giant among Australian artists “Arthur Boyd was made Australian of the Year in 1995. He died in 1999 at the age of 78, leaving his $20 million property to the people of Australia.
Today the work of Arthur Boyd is displayed in all of Australia’s major galleries.