08. ARTHUR BOYD
In 1971, Arthur Boyd received a prestigious appointment as a Creative Fellow at the Australian National University, Canberra. During the residency, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd looked at properties to purchase around the Australian Capital Territory and at Nowra, in southern New South Wales. Boyd’s depictions of these two locations, coupled with their return to Canberra in 1972, informed much of the artist’s response to the Australian landscape over the ensuing 18-month period. Boyd consistently drew on qualities peculiar to both places: the intense summer heat, piercing white light and ultramarine blue skies, and hilly topography of spindly trees, large rocks and scrubby grasses and foliage. At the heart of Boyd’s practice was a desire to develop a robust pictorial response to the uniqueness of the Australian landscape.
Hillside with Black Ram 1972 was painted just prior to the Boyd’s returning to England. Once there, Boyd continued with many of the same motifs and themes which had preoccupied him in Australia, such as the solitary figure in the landscape. Many of these pictures including Hillside with Black Ram were exhibited in a large and successful 1973 exhibition at Fischer Fine Art, London. Boyd recognised the continuing inspiration of the Australian landscape. In a telling statement he recollected that it was more ‘challenging, fierce, rugged (and) grander.’1
As seen in his buttery, palette knife paintings of the Mornington Peninsula from the early 1930s, Boyd has created a brilliant exposition in line, form, texture and colour in the present work. Hillside with Black Ram is organised around the downward ascent of the hill. Trees and bushes are placed on each side of the central gully to create a zig-zag effect that leads the viewer’s eyes down toward the foreground figure. The white and blonde tonalities of the tree trunks and hillside merge seamlessly with the olive hues and salmon pink that Boyd employs for the grasses and foliage, in contrast to the darkly toned and centrally placed ram.
Boyd’s brushwork reveals his virtuoso performance as a pure painter. In this, and related works from 1972-73, we see the blue of the sky confidently dragged across the picture surface in a series of broad sweeps. Foliage is skilfully dabbed over extended branches and trunks. Spindly straps of grass are sketched and tenderly dribbled onto the work using a fine-hair brush. Alternatively, Boyd used the reversed tip of the timber handle to gouge into the surface impasto. Colours are mixed wet-on-wet as well as scumbled over thinner patches of pigment. Boyd was never averse to getting his hands dirty while painting. In Hillside with Black Ram there is evidence of a palm and fingers gliding over areas of paint. This technique aided the artist to flatten and spread the paint out.
Arthur Boyd compiled an impressive legacy of paintings, drawings and prints in a career that spanned six decades. While many of the works sprang from literary texts or directly from his fertile imagination, the majority were a direct and intuitive response to the bush and the conditions Boyd encountered there. In Hillside with Black Ram Arthur Boyd combines his love of the Australian landscape with the familiar motif of the ram. In Boyd’s highly idiosyncratic lexicon the ram is most often represented as a primordial beast that symbolizes human corruption and desire.
1. Hoff, U., The Art of Arthur Boyd, André Deutsch, London, 1986, p.486
Rodney James is an independent art consultant who specialises in valuations, collection management, exhibitions, research and writing, and strategic planning for art galleries and museums.