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Arthur Boyd: Figures in the Landscape (1985)

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clip Painting by hand education content clip 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Painter Arthur Boyd uses his hands to paint. He says that the method is sensual and allows him to better depict his intent.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Australian artist Arthur Boyd working on a large canvas in his studio. In voice-over he describes how he uses his fingers and the palm of his hand to paint. Boyd says this technique is quicker than using a brush and allows him to get closer to the canvas and to feel his way through the painting. He says the pleasure of painting is ‘very sensual’. Close-up shots show his hands as he applies the paint to the canvas. The clip starts with Boyd inserting and playing a cassette of classical music. This music continues throughout the clip.

Educational value points

  • In the 1980s when this film was made, Arthur Boyd (1920–99) was increasingly using his hands to paint because he felt it allowed the paint to flow better, enabling him to paint with greater sensitivity – in the clip he describes it as 'feeling your way through the painting’. Boyd’s technique of painting with his hands and fingers has been likened to a potter moulding or sculpting clay, and may reflect the influence of his early training as a potter.
  • While some critics saw Boyd’s technique of painting with his hands as a sign of his impatience and an almost obsessive urgency, for Boyd this technique was quicker than using a brush, as he notes in the clip, and therefore gave his work an immediacy, also allowing ‘a closer connection between what you’re doing and yourself’.
  • The clip reveals Boyd as an experienced artist who is very comfortable with his medium and confident about his use of oil paint. He is shown, for example, deftly mixing paint in the palm of his hand rather than on a palette and then using the edge of his finger to subtly lay the paint. While artists often experiment with objects other than brushes to apply paint, the practice of painting extensively with one’s hands is not common and can be a difficult technique to master.
  • Even as a young painter Boyd liked to spread oil paint thickly across the canvas, which he did with a palette knife or paintbrush handle as well as with his hands. This technique gives his paintings a textured tactile quality, while up close they appear to be almost abstract fields of colour.
  • Boyd is shown working on Bathers and Pulpit Rock (1984–85) in which he juxtaposes the landscape with humankind, with Pulpit Rock representing the beauty of the natural world and the monstrous forms in the foreground symbolising human turmoil and hedonism. The landscape around the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales including Pulpit Rock provided inspiration for Boyd, who settled in the area after purchasing two properties there in the 1970s.
  • One of Australia’s most celebrated painters, Boyd was born into an artistic family in which he learnt the skills of painting, pottery and printmaking. At the end of the Second World War Boyd set up a pottery studio at Murrumbeena in Victoria before moving with his family to England in 1959 where his paintings drew critical acclaim.

This clip starts approximately 45 minutes into the documentary.

Boyd plays a cassette of gentle classical music. The rest of the clip focuses on his hands as he works on a painting in a large studio.

Arthur Boyd The reason I use, uh, my fingers and palm of my hand is mainly because I, it is quicker, but also there is a connection, a closer connection, between what you’re doing and yourself than there is if you’ve got a brush in between your – it’s separating you, in a way, from your canvas. I believe you can get much more subtlety and have more personal contact, I mean, or body contact with the, with the canvas. But then there is that kind of Braille feeling about it, where you’re feeling your way through the painting.

But mainly, I think it’s related to a subtle tonal change which takes much longer to do with a brush. So a loose description would be that it is a craft which involves a great deal of freedom, and, and with that, there’s a great deal of enjoyment. I think the pleasure of painting is really very sensual.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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