A celebration of the centenary of Arthur Boyd's birth. Below read anecdotes and stories from the people who knew Arthur or who have experienced Bundanon. Watch Alexander Boyd perform the first movement from Bride Suite, a piece he composed in honour of his grandfather.
Arthur was always considered a quiet person by those who met him; however, he used his artwork as a platform to speak very loudly about issues that concerned him. When you look at his art today you can see he had so much to say and his work remains relevant to contemporary audiences.- Jennifer Thompson, Collections Manager
Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift of Bundanon represents one of the most generous acts of philanthropy in the history of the arts in Australia. It was an audacious gift driven by a big vision. That vision has continued to be built upon by subsequent acts of private generosity and government support, creating the vibrant place for art and learning that Bundanon is known as today.
Arthur Boyd remains one of Australia’s most significant artists and philanthropists. Affectionately known as ‘Chook Chooks’ by his family as a child, Arthur was part of a unique artistic family.
"Arthur was always considered a quiet person by those who met him; however, he used his artwork as a platform to speak very loudly about issues that concerned him," said Jennifer Thompson, Collections and Exhibitions’ Manager at Bundanon.
"When you look at his art today you can see he had so much to say and his work remains relevant to contemporary audiences."
I made satisfying progress on a novel, and while still unfinished the writing now contains references to Bundanon’s landscape and art, and holds the spirit of Arthur Boyd’s generous legacy. What a privilege to feel that intimacy with such an important site of cultural history.- Susan Wyndham
My Bundanon residency in 2018 was an inspiring time for my writing for many reasons: the spacious studio with a view of grazing kangaroos, the mixture of solitude and stimulating company, intense work refreshed by magical walks, visits to the Homestead and art collection, and always a restful sense of being away from the hubbub.
I’ve been thrilled to see finished work emerge from other writers, artists and musicians who were there when I was – performances, books, albums, exhibitions – all proof that what goes in eventually comes out in a multitude of glorious forms.
I made satisfying progress on a novel, and while still unfinished the writing now contains references to Bundanon’s landscape and art, and holds the spirit of Arthur Boyd’s generous legacy. What a privilege to feel that intimacy with such an important site of cultural history.
A small collection of leaves, feathers and stones gathered on my wanderings brings back the calm energy when I need a boost. I can call up images of Arthur’s studio, Merric Boyd’s organic pottery, the Single Man’s Hut, Janet Laurence’s Treelines Track, and Kirsten Thomson’s plans for the new gallery at Riversdale. I look forward to another visit, knowing there will be exciting changes and much that endures.
Thanks to Arthur for his foresight and to everyone who cares for this precious place.
In essence the Shoalhaven River was always waiting for him, our own Prodigal Son, to come home and fulfil the dream of a landscape that belonged to everyone.- Barry Pearce
Arthur Boyd: a personal reflection for the 100th year of his birth.
In 2018 I was invited by Deborah Ely to contribute to a program inspired by the 25th anniversary of Bundanon Trust and its genesis in an extraordinary gift from Arthur and Yvonne Boyd.
I had not visited the magic property of Bundanon on the Shoalhaven River since Arthur died in Melbourne in 1999, nor in fact since the period of his retrospective which I curated at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1993, the year Prime Minister Paul Keating formally accepted the artist’s gift to the nation.
That period has lingered with me as a time which changed my life forever, now recalled even more sharply through Deborah’s invitation to curate a touring exhibition from the Bundanon collection. I entitled it Landscape of the Soul.
Long before I met Arthur, I was in awe of him. Whilst an art student in Adelaide in 1964, I saw in the Art Gallery of South Australia a survey of his paintings selected from a huge retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London two years earlier. I became especially beguiled, and admittedly bewildered, by paintings from his Bride series, like staring into the heart of an uncomfortable darkness within the human story of our continent.
Shortly after, I took up an appointment as Education Officer at the Art Gallery of South Australia, and two paintings in its collection counterpointed the brooding effect of those images; firstly, Cyanide tanks, Bendigo c.1950, with its translucent glow of tempera pigment echoing a trope of outback Australia promulgated by Drysdale and Nolan.
The second was more challenging, Nebuchadnezzar caught in a forest 1968, acquired from an exhibition at Kym Bonython’s Gallery that year. It too radiated a thrilling embodiment of light, but the luminescence of a strange disabling violence. A close friend of Arthur said to me this conception represented his Shakespearean alter-ego.
I didn’t quite get that, though I should have. At the time I secured a small part in a television production of King Lear, and Peter O’Shaugnessy’s incredible rendition of Lear’s line For I am bound upon a wheel of fire! became fixed indelibly in my thoughts over the ensuing years as I developed more clarity regarding the Nebuchadnezzar series.
Is it any wonder, my heart was in my mouth at the prospect of being introduced to Arthur for the first time at the Art Gallery of New South Wales? Tim Storrier, then a trustee, got the ball rolling, for which I am eternally grateful. He had come to me one day around 1990 and declared that as Boyd was now splitting his time each year between Europe and New South Wales we were perfectly positioned to offer him a retrospective. A meeting with tea and scones was arranged in the Gallery Boardroom.
It didn’t turn out to be at all what I feared. Where was the extraordinary procreator of such a diverse oeuvre? Where was the magnificent pessimist who had laid himself bare, the man of sorrows and the behemoth of despair when, face to face, he was so disarmingly sweet-natured, and incredibly restrained?
But as I got to know Arthur better a steely resolve beneath the cherubim exterior began to subtly reveal itself. His daughter Polly once said he preferred to paint his feelings than talk about them, and I found that to be true from the beginning of our friendship. Here was a personality who woke in the morning hoping to see angels dance around his pillow, but who each night wrestled with demons.
I loved him for this, his belief that to be healed from the toxic aspect of the human condition one had to confront it squarely for it to become what he termed unseen.
I loved even more his ambition for Bundanon, which we spoke about a lot, in Suffolk at first, then during many visits to Riversdale and Bundanon over the next few years whilst planning his retrospective. Negotiations with the Federal Government were under way and there was nervous tension in the air as they slowly moved towards signing and sealing.
I began to realise more and more how much Arthur’s sense was attuned to the idea of a grand equipoise, where the rhythm of trees and rocks along the banks of the river exuded a Mozartian or Wagnerian relationship between nature and civilised culture. Music. That was his main glue for reconciling opposites, be it between day and night, good and evil, or stillness and time’s thievish progress, as Shakespeare wrote.
Indeed Bundanon became the metaphor of a kind of operatic Odyssey, from the innocent vales and shorelines of Mornington Peninsula of Arthur’s childhood to the cleansing purity of light and air at Shoalhaven, riven along the way with anxiety about a world misbehaving itself. It was nothing less than a vision of sanctuary for a planet and its people in trouble, preserved so well by its current custodians.
I was profoundly saddened to read in Darlene Bungey’s biography of his final delirium at Mercy Hospital in Melbourne. Yvonne had taken him a poster reproduction of Rembrandt’s The return of the Prodigal Son, which Arthur had always regarded as the exemplary, summarising masterpiece of a lifelong quest towards the one great picture. Maybe that picture for him was Bundanon.
In essence the Shoalhaven River was always waiting for him, our own Prodigal Son, to come home and fulfil the dream of a landscape that belonged to everyone.
Barry Pearce FUniSA
Emeritus Curator, Art Gallery of New South Wales. October 2020
I feel heaping gratitude to that Wodi Wodi country for witnessing the cathartic processes of myself, and so many other people not of that land.- TextaQueen
“During my time at Bundanon I was experiencing weighty amounts of personal and collective grief, similar to my current days. I was able to reflect in these feelings by creating in solitude, in the heavy heat of the weather, on that land with its own layered history. I remember the visceral experiences of making photographic self portraiture as alien visitor seeking connection- sitting emotionally and otherwise bare amongst bark, fronds, bugs, river reeds and shadows. I feel heaping gratitude to that Wodi Wodi country for witnessing the cathartic processes of myself, and so many other people not of that land.”
Created while artist in residence at Bundanon Trust in 2016, TextaQueen’s work ‘Eve of Reconstruction’ is the second instalment in a science-fictional contemplation on desiring connection to a land as uninvited visitor whose ancestry belongs elsewhere.
A place where writers and painters and sculptors and musicians could be inspired by their country and by these two countrymen who, by giving us the peace of Bundanon, sacrificed their own.- Darleen Bungey
Darleen Bungey is the author of ''Arthur Boyd A Life" and shares anecdotes from spending time with them.
Yvonne once told me they missed gum leaves while living in England and that she and Arthur had a hope, a vision of their life together on their return.
I think she mentioned a picket fence, a gate opening onto a long sandy shore and a cottage, simple, sealed safe from the world by a rolling sea.
Arthur and Yvonne gave up their dream of that sanctuary by the sea and instead turned towards what they both dreaded, the intrusion of fame. They handed Australians a piece of beauty, safe from developers. A haven where they could walk among giant gums, the silence broken only by birds and dry leaves beneath their feet: huge tracts of land where wildlife was protected. A place where writers and painters and sculptors and musicians could be inspired by their country and by these two countrymen who, by giving us the peace of Bundanon, sacrificed their own.
Happy birthday dearest man, Arthur Boyd. You live on.
Arthur generously extended an invitation to me – a young, aspiring artist – to travel, live and work at the family’s Italian residence; a large, traditional farmhouse in the Tuscan hills between Florence and Pisa.- Judith Blackall
Celebrating Arthur Boyd's centenary anniversary year, Judith Blackall comments on what Arthur Boyd and his legacy mean to her.
"I met Arthur and Yvonne Boyd in 1981. Arthur generously extended an invitation to me – a young, aspiring artist – to travel, live and work at the family’s Italian residence; a large, traditional farmhouse in the Tuscan hills between Florence and Pisa. I welcomed the offer, and suggested we extend the opportunity to other Australian artists within the Australia Council’s international artist-in-residence program. With an AusCo grant, we established the studios at ‘II Paretaio’ in 1982. The house nestles on a ridge amongst terraces with century-old olive trees. There are commanding views from every window; on clear days you could see the mountains of Carrara, shining white from the marble. I managed the Boyd studio at ‘il Paretaio’ as an artist residency until 1990, and initiated a range of increasingly ambitious exhibitions that introduced the work of Australian contemporary artists to Italian audiences. I stayed in Italy for 15 years, working in contemporary art galleries in Milan and Florence, the Museo Pecci Museum in Prato, and the Florence Biennale. It was a fabulous experience. I feel most grateful for Arthur’s generosity that provided the opportunity.''
Salote Tawale was born in Suva, Fiji Islands and grew up in Melbourne. Cultural identity is a key focus in her work. Bundanon hosted Salote as an artist-in-residence. In this short video, she shares her experience of looking across to the opposite bank of the river and a magical moment of feeling like she was walking into an Arthur Boyd painting. We hope you enjoy listening to Salote as much as we did.
Richard Morecroft, the long-running host of ABC News, conservationist, and previous Bundanon Trust board member, talks about the vision of Arthur and Yvonne's gift of Bundanon to the Australian people.
My residency project was to explore Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s personal library and to make some work about it. However the project kept growing until it included an artist book (Artist’s Library), a body of photographic work (Intimate Journals) and a touring exhibition. The Bundanon staff supported this development at every stage; without them it could never have grown the way it did.
It was also a process of discovering Arthur and Yvonne, since books can reveal a lot about the people who own them. As well as the titles, I pored over the incidental inscriptions, annotations, dedications and ‘inserts’ (random scraps of paper slipped between the pages).
One of the things that make this library special is the way the interior space of the library opens directly onto the natural world outside. In Artist’s Library I tried to catch something of that closeness between inside and outside. It also led me to photograph the landscape around the house, and those photographs, overlaid with text, became the photographic series Intimate Journals.
Do you have a memory or anecdote you would like to share about Arthur or Bundanon?
Gosh, so much!
Seeing the brushes made of Arthur’s children’s hair really struck me, the way it brought together his family life and his passion in a practice that meant he drew on whatever was to hand, so even though the hair in question was curly, so what? He made a brush out of it, and then painted with the curl - the kind of inspired resourcefulness I love.
What has been the most significant aspect of Arthur Boyd’s legacy to you?
The enduring gift to the nation as a sanctuary for creative practice, the sense of being able to access his studio and home and get a real sense of how creative life was lived in a place that held special meaning for him, the sense of it being a place everyone can share and enjoy, the generosity of his intention in leaving it to us to use.
Post Boyd, I love that it is becoming a place to learn more about Indigenous fire management and other kinds of traditional knowledge and cultural practice that I feel sure Arthur would have had the utmost respect for.
If you have spent time at Bundanon, what impression has it left on you and why?
The uninterrupted silence is gold. The mutual respect of everyone focusing on their work, that sense of humming from a hive of bees, all busy all filled with a sense of purpose. You are working alone but together; you can feel the creativity in the ether and that is encouraging. The fact of its being inter-disciplinary makes for rich cross art form conversations at the end of the day. The fact that there is no pressure to perform or read your work at the end of the day is an important distinction from other residencies such as Varuna.
A week at Bundanon is like a month somewhere else in terms of what you can achieve. Sometimes I just say the word to myself to remind myself of its special quiet, I use it like a mantra to encourage me to stay at my desk and persist.
I wrote a section of my memoir ONLY at Bundanon, so I associate it with actually completing a very long slow project. I have also had a week there on my second book and that was a real circuit breaker when I had got bogged down. Just sitting with the material day after day, uninterrupted by daily chores and life admin, let me see a way forward.
"Participating in the Bundanon residency was such a pivotal moment for me, it was straight after completing my honours degree and gave me the space, freedom and time to create, research and reflect. The contemplative space of the surrounding bushland that I immersed myself in and responded directly towards had a huge impact on the development of the works that were later exhibited as part of Primavera 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney. The landscape of Bundanon resonates a powerful energy and at times I remember this feeling and presence.. that I was almost 'walking with Boyd'."
"My enduring memory of Arthur and Bundanon was in 1994.I was asked to go to Bundanon where I met with Arthur Boyd to talk about his paintings stored at Bundanon. Many of his paintings were in storage containers in shipping out in the paddocks. They had suffered from high heat, damp, insect and rodent activity. Nine large paintings rolled up in the room at Bundanon, (now Jen Thompsons office at Bundanon). Arthur helped me unroll them. They had been removed from their stretchers in the 1960’s and rolled up and not moved since then. I put them in the back of my car and took them to my studio in Rose Bay. I restored them and continue to care for them today."
Rather than being tied to the paintings in any very specific way, I've tried to bring to the music more of the sense of hope and darkness and light that's contained within the paintings themselves.- Alexander Boyd
To mark the centenary of Arthur Boyd's birth, Alexander Boyd shares a new work he is composing to honour his grandfather, "Bride Suite".
"Bride Suite" is inspired by Arthur Boyd's Bride series of paintings.
As Alexander explains, the composition has become a more expansive piece with three movements, which he hopes to complete later this year. In this digital performance recorded in his home in London, Alexander Boyd performs the first movement, as well as Beethoven's Sonata in Eb Op 27 N1 and Chopin's Ballade N.1 in G minor Op. 23.
The performance will be available here at 8:00pm on Friday 24 July 2020.