The art of Arthur Boyd
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Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) presents art historians with an exceptionally complex critical dimension in terms of his position in twentieth century painting. Although he is considered to be one of the most distinguished Australian painters of the century, in terms of the originality and accomplishment exhibited over five decades (the other being Sir Sidney Nolan O.M,.R.A.), Boyd has been, to date, ill-served by contemporary historians. The earlier definitive publication, by Franz Philipp was published in London as early as 1967. There was subsequently a relatively brief study by Dr Ursula Hoff (1986). In both cases the research was valuable, given the social and cultural climate of each respective period, but their conclusions demand revision in the present perspective. Boyd's completed oeuvre is now open to revisionary analysis in art historical terms, in the light of evolving and more demanding criteria with respect to a properly contemporary social and cultural perspective. My work was in large part complete by 1996, after which the artist suffered terminally from a physically and mentally debilitating condition ; he died three years later. In a radical reappraisal I have accordingly reviewed the chronological progression of his work in various media. This is charted and analysed in terms of its transition from the relatively benign landscape and figurative subject material in the prewar period , then following the trauma of world war a transformation into a more psychologically riven genre of allegorical departures from harmony and visual cohesion; to work driven by global knowledge of atrocity and deprivation. As the postwar work developed, the artist's imagery reflected a deliberate level of appropriation of subject and composition. An awareness of European narrative painting grew at first hand, deployed by him subsequently to develop content via specific collaborations in graphic work, with established scholars and poets. In the 1960s and 1970s Boyd successfully evolved, with his exceptional technical proficiency and draughtmanship, a model whereby religious or historical narrative text was combined with an expanding repertoire of Boyd imagery. I have explored this process and its results to find an original connectivity not previously evaluated. This examines the development of the oeuvre as between thematic content and its expression through Boyd's personal language in painting. Of particular significance I have reappraised Boyd's Bride paintings of the 1950s in the light of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report, Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, (1997). In doing so Boyd can be seen as both a courageous and a highly original artist who sought to expose the ills of society through painting. At the same time his work is the product of the ignorance of white Australians in their comprehension of the plight of Australia's dispossessed Indigenous race. These social aspects are here exposed for the first time in my conclusions as essential to the complete reappraisal of Arthur Boyd's ultimate standing in terms of present day critique.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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