Arthur Boyd: a life

Bungey, Darleen (2007) Arthur Boyd: a life. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


Jamie Boyd walks into the kitchen. He has the same intensely blue eyes as his father. He has the same gentle expression. His hospitality is ingrained. He immediately offers: Coffee? Cake? Tea? Bread? He has the same stammering, hesitant sentence patterns as his father, all commas, dots and dashes, the odd full point offering a rare conclusion. But when I say, "I would have liked to have known your father", his reply is swift and succinct. "There are the paintings." Arthur wrote a clutch of personal letters in his lifetime. He kept no diary. Loathed speech making. Avoided interviews. Mistrusted words. He revealed so little of himself that his youngest daughter, Lucy, confessed, "I'm not sure how well I really knew him". Jamie believed his father was "... a bit of a mystery ... reclusive by nature ... partly hiding something in himself'. Polly, his first born, labelled him "an enigma, probably one of the most secret people on earth". And his wife, Yvonne, admitted her husband would never tell her "how, or what, he felt". In the most revealing letters Arthur Boyd ever wrote, love letters to Yvonne in his early twenties, he warned her (and no doubt any future biographers) that his letters were "only a shadow of me, I'd hate any person to judge me by them, they are a weak shadow".l Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother, Theo, filled a book. But in Vincent's undelivered dispatch, found on his body after his suicide, he told Theo he had reached the conclusion, " ... the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak". Many would agree, believing that a painting tells us all we need to know about the artist. However, when we look at the wide-open, light-filled, last landscapes that Vincent painted from the window of his room in the sanatorium at Saint-Remy, it changes our perspective to discover that he deleted the bars. Biography, too, is based on distortion; the most brilliantly shining facts always clouded by perception, time and place. Peter Porter, in his 2004 National Biography Award lecture.' said he believed all appearance to be a mystery, all stories partial, and any biography, in the end, no more than a biopsy. A brush stroke transforms, a memory transforms, as a word transforms. Yet, despite the inadequacy of the words' jet down in the following pages, they are driven by a need to make connection. Just as we attempt to understand the land, sea and sky and make maps to find our way, we search for tracings in other lives to help us navigate our own.

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