Menzies Art Brands

ARTHUR BOYD Jinker on the Sandbank, Shoalhaven 1986


In Jinker on the Sandbank 1986, Arthur Boyd paints his beloved Shoalhaven river in a moment of intense quiet and spiritual calm in the half-light of approaching sunset, like a moment that T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) described as the still point of the turning world.1 The painting is suffused with purple, pink, grey and that ineffable silver light that fills the sky after sunset. The colours set up a natural resonance to draw the viewer in to the picture surface (river surface) as the light falls across the barely-moving water. This heavenly water, glazed with all the banked reflections, is Boyds quietly-determined Australian Spirit passing through the sparse rivergum landscape of the body of the country. It is as if he had sensed the spirit of the Dreamtime.

Jinker on the Sandbank is a characteristic example of the focused Shoalhaven works that Boyd painted during the 1980s after he and his wife Yvonne purchased the now-famous property at Bundanon and settled there permanently after their return from Europe in 1978. The river became part of his lifeblood. The Shoalhaven series allowed Boyd to paint the river with many voices, recording its moods and changes of light at different times of day and changes of the seasons. As Sandra McGrath records: Boyd has captured the river in all its moods; quiet as floods begin to recede; ugly brown as it swells with water; dark, calm and green in summer when the land is parched; glowing pink at sunset.2 The viewer can almost hear Boyd in the role of storyteller, his voice-over echoing the quiet murmur of the sunset river. His story is one of power and beauty, of the simple places of nature, of riverbanks, horizons and sky; and a hope that this special place will sustain for future generations. Out of such natural simplicity he creates the monumental.

The painting is alive with clues to this monumental. Boyd uses the sandbank, jinker, the new moon and its canny reflection to focus the spirit and literally balance the pictures internal dynamic. The reflected moon is simply a flick of the brush, like a moment of glimpsed enlightenment. The fallen tree on the riverbank is a diagonal painted line that drives the internal perspective to a point of focus on the river. The cart, so simply sketched with its everyman driver, brings a human presence into the landscape. For, as Boyd had demonstrated through his religious landscapes of the 1940s, it is humans that are capable of spiritual, even religious experience, through the sublimity of Nature. In this Shoalhaven work, Boyd places the human figure within the quietly overpowering river environment, just as the great German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) had placed the solitary figure of a traveller overlooking a sea of fog in the famous The Wanderer Above the Mists, 1817-18. However, Boyds jinker brings a rustic almost anachronistic Australian context to the work, the surreal gesture appearing as a solitary wish for an eclipsed past life; such carts may be found in rural New South Wales with a little searching, but could hardly be described as commonplace. The cart becomes an active icon, engaging the viewer in an interactive loop of memory recalls, bringing a spirited life to the image a life that remains even after many viewings of the work. There is a symbolic hope in the low hanging new moon that the guiding knowledge of this river will maintain for future generations
of Australians.

1. Eliot, T. S., Four Quartets, Faber & Faber, London, 1962, p.2
2. McGrath, S., The Artist & the River: Arthur Boyd and the Shoalhaven, Bay Books, Sydney, 1982, p.78

Professor Peter James Smith BSc (Hons);
MSc; M Stats; MFA; PhD


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