In 1971, Arthur Boyd first visited Bundanon, a property located on the Shoalhaven River on the south coast of New South Wales. He felt an immediate affinity with the area and in 1973 purchased the nearby property of Riversdale, subsequently acquiring Bundanon in 1979.
Boyd's Shoalhaven paintings represent some of his strongest works since the Bride series of 1957. In contrast to the horizontal format of the Wimmera paintings of the 1950s, the Shoalhaven paintings provided a new interpretation of the Australian landscape. The wild solitude of Boyd's 1960s landscapes was alleviated, a shift perhaps prompted by his acquisition of his beloved Bundanon. In this series, Boyd reveals an intimate knowledge of the landscape, and his prolific production of small Shoalhaven landscapes on copper and board, characterised by precision and detail, helped to imbue his larger scale paintings with a delicacy and lightness of touch.
Clay and Rockface at Bundanon follows a format familiar to Boyd's Shoalhaven paintings of the mid-1970s. The surface is divided into three horizontal bands of cobalt blue sky, steeply sloped riverbank, and the river, each hosting different textures. The smooth swathe of cobalt blue in the sky echoes the surface of the river, but the colour in each is subtly variegated: from deeper to lighter blue in the sky, and from olive green to pale grey to taupe in the river. The middle band of the hillside is painted more thickly, with short brushstrokes forming a warp and weft around the rocks and soil. In contrast, vertical trunks of gum trees divide the canvas by stripes of white, grey and taupe. This strong horizontal vertical structure is softened by the diagonal line of trees that divide the canvas from lower left to upper right, and by the fallen bleached treetrunk by the riverbanks.
This painting is a testament to Boyd's deep and enduring love for his home: a place for enchantment and continued inspiration. For Boyd, however, the enchantment went beyond a love for the picturesque: "the land Boyd paints is not only beautiful and fragile, it is powerful and dangerous, a prehistoric landscape which traps you in its primordial mysteries. To break the balance between its power and fragility is to destroy it" (Grazia Gunn cited in B Pearce, Arthur Boyd, Sydney, 1993, p.177). It is testament to Boyd's deep empathy with the land that he was able to harness the qualities of this landscape in his work, controlling it to develop an enduring vision of the Australian landscape.