Exhibition themes The caged painter


In the early 1970s, Boyd undertook a group of works that became known as his Caged painter series, also referred to as his artist-in-extremis works. He had reached a point in his artistic development when he was brave enough to reveal the intense, often agonizing, struggle involved in being an artist.

The seeds for these works were planted in 1971–72, while Boyd was a Creative Fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. It was a time when the death-knell was being sounded for painting—especially landscape painting. As always Boyd avoided skirmishes in the art world but he reflected upon the conundrum of being a painter from multiple perspectives, noting in retrospect that the series was ‘about thinking you’ve come to a dead end, and then making use of the fact to rekindle the batteries’.

Boyd depicts the painter as caged and uncaged; trapped by incessant demands to produce works for a market while striving for personal artistic freedom. In these paintings he takes us into the very act of the painting process as the painter engages with the bleached landscape and brilliant blue skies that had made a considerable impression on him during his Canberra residency.

With a secure grounding in the technical aspects of painting and an increasing spirit of daring, Boyd allowed feelings of uncertainty to enter the picture and in the process he paradoxically created some of his most significant works.