The Persistence of Memory

In 1968, Arthur Boyd and his family returned to Australia after living in England for nine years. His time abroad had brought him numerous accolades with major retrospectives held in London and Australia. His achievements were momentous for a mid-career artist at just 48 years of age.

Now back in Australia, he returned to depicting a familiar landscape, in many ways a reflection on his own childhood. When Boyd was a young artist living with his grandfather at Rosebud in Port Phillip Bay he spent many days on the beach observing the marine wildlife and the luminous deep blue ocean. In particular, he was struck by the extraordinary forms of skates (large stingrays) that he saw washed up on the beach.

“I used to watch the fishermen throw their kite-shaped skates up on the shores…skates swim with a pink underside human-like face looking down into the water, and when these tender undersides were exposed on the sand, they seemed to symbolise absolute vulnerability” – Arthur Boyd

In Evening Shoreline c.1968 Boyd has captured the stillness and beauty of Port Philip Bay. Upon first glance, the pure simplicity of the work strikes you – the serene waves, soothing blues, and vast expanse of sky and water. Unlike his more figurative works that cover the biblical, mythical and emotional, here the painting appears to be just a literal landscape. However, upon second sight we notice the pure brilliance in Arthur’s execution of paint, the delicate stingray in the foreground, and rendering of the light with such confidence and restraint only a gifted and developed artist such as Boyd could deliver. We, the viewer, are absorbed into the serenity of the landscape, triggering all the senses. Perhaps this painting tells a story of what we see as well as what we don’t see. Boyd invokes a shared memory of the uncomplicated life by the sea as a young child recalling an innocent past.

In the decades following his childhood spent in the bay, Boyd repeatedly although not regularly drew upon the image of the stingray – sometimes as subjects for still life and at other times with a deeper meaning. The latter is prominent in his beautiful tribute to his father, Skate in Merric Boyd Pot, who suffered from epilepsy. Here the skate is once more set against a deep blue expanse and resides within one of Merric’s ceramics. The skate, as well as his father, is a creature both vulnerable and resilient.

We are delighted to present Arthur Boyd’s Evening Shoreline c.1968 in our forthcoming September Fine Art auction.

Olivia Fuller / Head of Art