Focus On: Robert Boynes

It is like Godard’s idea that what is important is what comes before and after the movie. It is the implication that this is just a slice of a continuing action . . . I think this is one of the reasons I allow myself to work with moving figures – to create this implication that something has come before and something will happen after. The scene is a particular chink of the action that you look through – a privileged moment in a continuum. – Robert Boynes

Mirroring the layering of images and pigment upon the canvas, Robert Boynes draws upon a range of visual references and metaphorically layers them within his paintings. ‘So’ and ‘Exit’ herald from a series concerned with the visitors and act of visiting the National Gallery of Victoria. Throughout his career, Boynes‘ body of work has revolved around people in public places engaged in conversation. This theme is carried through into ‘Exit’ with the cluster of students, glimpsed through the water wall of the Gallery, grouped together on their way to visit the Picasso exhibition. The exhibition is referenced in ‘So’ through the two letters – the last two in the name Picasso – lifted from the fluorescent sign advertising the Gallery. The word worked twofold in the painting alluding to the exhibition directly as well as acting as a question without a question mark. The urban space is omnipresent within Boynes‘ work with the orange slash at the bottom of the canvas reminiscent of the roadway in front of the Gallery. It was upon this roadway that Boynes spotted the illuminated SO in the Picasso sign upon a return journey home. He was so taken with the shimmering artificial light that he immediately exited the tram and took a slew of photographs to begin working from. The final layer of metaphor is found in the drizzling water wall through which the subjects are viewed. The works were completed during a period of draught in Victoria and the water wall manifested as Boynes‘ wish for rain.

Left: Robert Boynes, ‘So’ 2007, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 80cm
Right: Robert Boynes, ‘Exit’ 2007, acrylic on canvas, 121 x 152cm

Robert Boynes technique

At various times throughout his long career, artist Robert Boynes has been described as a filmmaker who, by using just one frame, has been able to captures that illusive ‘moment in time’. One can think of his work as a ‘mirror’ reflecting current issues and ideas of the times back at society. His current technique has been honed since the late eighties and has been loosely described by Deborah Hart, the head curator at the NGA, as ‘new media’. It starts with him taking hundreds of photographs in very public places, editing them down to around thirty or forty iconic images that are then transferred to oversized silk screens. Nailing a large section of canvas to the studio floor he starts with a succession of overlaid screens of acrylic paint which has the advantage of rich colour and drying quite quickly. Boynes may only pass a sponge dipped in colour once over the silk mesh, or painstakingly and carefully transfer the image exactly as it appears on the screens, until he is satisfied that the canvas reflects the image he is looking for.

With the advent of digital photography and new printing techniques, one can now print just about anything on anything, but what you start with is what you finish with. Boynes’ paintings sit at the other end of the scale. In fact, they can often end up consisting twenty or thirty layers of imagery, laid down by various techniques from paint being dragged over and though a series of his own screens with sponges and scrubbing brushes, to the stenciling of coloured dots across the surface. The paintings can also include airbrushing or contain collaged elements worked into the canvas, taking the work further and further away from the original ‘shot’ and more deeply into something at once ghostly and evocative. With each layer he manipulates the density or translucency of the image, the depth of colour or, if it appears not to suit what he had in mind, Boynes may take a high-pressure hose and remove all but the original layer. After the canvas has dried leaving a ghost image, he starts the laborious process of building up the canvas again to better exemplify his investigation into the everyday.

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