Boyd and Evans’ current retrospective VIEWS is the latest exhibition to take over Birmingham’s Ikon gallery. Boyd and Evans have been working together for over 40 years and have concluded from this a dynamic and intriguing exhibition. The exhibition draws together work from across all four decades of their careers and consists predominantly of paintings. These range from ghostly portrayals of the British hinterlands to the gargantuan wide-angle lensed surrealist American landscapes that have come to be a mainstay in recent times, as well as a small amount of photographic work, all bathed in an existential narrative ready to be accommodate the audiences’ participation.
The layout of the first floor is minimally intrusive upon the viewer to the point where it is very spacious allowing for the work to be viewed by the maximum amount of people at any given time. This is particularly interesting when a variety of the paintings have a surreal paranoia to them. The Right Triangle (1976) is a fascinating example. A rectangular canvas tilted diagonally shows an overcast sky on the brink of a rain storm on the already luscious greenery in front of an icy lake. A man has proudly conquered a rock just off the shore and is standing with his back turned to the viewer gazing out in to the depths of the lake. To his left on the bank lies a woman, also with her back to the viewer, she seems to be relaxed but still isolated and focused on the lake. Staring at them or the lake (it is unknown) stands a young girl similarly; her back is turned to the audience. The solemn isolation between the characters and the suffocation of the empowering grey sky give it a slight morbid, taboo aura. Should we be there? Why are we watching them? Is the young girl watching them as well? Are they also part of the audience?
The subtle differences in application of paint is a common factor within the two floors – at the start of their career Boyd and Evans used spray painted acrylic through stencils to create thin layers, however this technique was abandoned in favour of the intimate use of brush and oils. VIEWS is certainly dominated by human perception and thus the distortion of it through the mind which entails a lean towards a surrealist nature. The most commanding example of this is Adventures Of A Sleeping Man (1970) which shows a rather simple homogenously gradual gradient of blue and green separating land and sky. The background is lightly built upon with a dust coloured outline of a solitary farmhouse. Behind, but seemingly a million miles away, sit more houses. The foreground is passive-aggressively dominated by the image of two men, faces obscured, sleeping on the grass. Above circle what appear to be birds of prey, stalking and diving down upon the two motionless men like strafing fighter jets. What could this mean? The tensions projected by the two juxtaposed elements collide in a surreal discomfort. The painting speaks to one in such an intimate way that the sky is the limit on how it is interpreted. The detail within the picture is very minimal: there are very few layers of colour which add to its rawness, almost as if we are given the skin and bones and we must dress with whatever we want.
In stark contrast the second floor harbours The White Mountains (2000) which, produced 30 years later, embodies a great sense of maturity in terms of thought and precision. The impressionist style that verges on pointillism seems, in the true sense of the word, simply epic. The canvas shows two ranges of mountains. The nearer is set to the left and is kept in the dark by the rising sun like a secret – isolated and soon to be forgotten. The second range of mountains is set behind the first and to the right. They are perfectly frosted, glazed in the most pristine of whites intertwined and drenched in the primitive solar wakes of the sun. So captivating is it that it harbours the power to make one believe, if just for an instant, they can see their own breath amongst this divine backdrop.
Air corridor (1972) shows an airliner being viewed as it coincidentally passes through ones line of sight, interrupted by a series of telephone wires which fragment the deep blue sky in to long horizontal corridors framing the airliner. This use of word play along with intriguingly simple imagery focusing on perception creates a never ending ability for one to investigate. A vast amount of the work on display focuses on the relationship between foreground and back ground and how these spaces can be inextricably linked through a given subject. Perhaps it is this that precipitates the revelation of a lapse within reason – a period of time and space shadowed by an overwhelming sense of separation and isolation, as seen in The Right Triangle (1976) and The White Mountains (2000). The simplicity of the imagery and composition portrayed is deeply relatable and evokes so much emotion that it becomes at times incredibly surreal and detached. But then again that distance allows one to become an intimate force within the paintings: one views their own state of profoundness and vulnerability through the characters portrayed.
Boyd & Evans: VIEWS, 18th July until 2 September 2012, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square Brindleyplace, West Midlands, B1 2HS. www.ikon-gallery.co.uk
You can see more from Boyd & Evans at Flowers Gallery Cork Street from 26th July – 25th August. For more information visit their website: www.flowersgallery.com
1. Boyd & Evans Open Road (1998)
Courtesy the artists and Maio and Levon Nishkian
2. Boyd & Evans Warm Springs (2003)
Courtesy the artists
3. Boyd & Evans Clee Hill (2009)
Courtesy the artists
Text: William Davie