Related work: Potter Drawing by the Sea, 1967-68, oil on canvas, 109.2 x 114.3 cm, Private collection, Melbourne
'I remember my father drawing or painting - he had a particular way of putting his feet straight out, of holding a book in his lap. The boots are characteristic of my father." (Arthur Boyd, cited in G Gunn, Arthur Boyd, Canberra, 1985, p. 66)
The Boyd family has an artistic legacy that extends over four generations, with most members pursuing careers in the arts and spanning the mediums of painting, sculpture, pottery, architecture and writing. Arthur's father, Merric Boyd, had a pottery studio in the outlying Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena, from which Arthur Boyd and John Perceval produced ceramic paintings and sculptures from the late 1940s onwards.
Traudi Allen noted that: "Merric Boyd had established a reputation as Australia's first studio potter, having held a one-man show of ceramics in 1912, and studied at the Josiah Wedgewood Pottery at Stoke-on-Trent in England in 1920." (T Allen, John Perceval, Melbourne, 1992, p. 118). Boyd's potter series was a son's emotive recollection of his father and mother as people, parents and artists.
In 1959 Boyd arrived in London and took up residence in Highgate. From this base he studied the works of the old masters hung in the National and Tate Galleries. Extensive travel through central Europe extended this new knowledge, which he utilised in his mythological and religious paintings of the mid 1960s, including the Nebuchadnezzar series. Ursula Hoff suggested that: "If the Nebuchadnezzar series was heroic and historical, the Potter paintings which followed were intimate and autobiographical. They are poetic evocations of the early life of Merric and Doris Boyd, the artist's parents. Both had died: Merric in 1959, shortly before Arthur and his family had left Melbourne, Doris a year later. Their deaths and the dissolution of the home at Murrumbeena prompted works of a more private nature than any undertaken since the forties. By 1964 Boyd had experimented in several compositions, but the theme is not consistently pursued until after the Nebuchadnezzar theme had been exhausted. From the next two years dates a large output of drawings, etchings and paintings on this theme. Tadgell records thirty-nine drawings between 1966 and 1968 and fifteen between 1968 and 1970; in addition Boyd made about sixteen etching and two series of paintings." (U Hoff, The Art of Arthur Boyd, London, 1986, p. 60)
It was nine years before Boyd returned to his native Australia and to the former family home, 'Open Country'. With both parents now deceased, Boyd came home only to their memory and to the collection of his father's works of art that filled the house. It was this emotional experience that inspired the unusually personal subject matter of the potter series.
Referring to the closely related painting, Potter Drawing by the Sea, Janet McKenzie wrote:
"The Potter paintings portraying the artist's father are, not surprisingly, dramatic and at times tormented images, reflecting his temperament and the effect of his suffering on his extremely sensitive son Arthur recalled his awareness as a child that his own father was alone in the precarious pursuit of artistic goals The portrait of Merric Boyd drawing is one of characteristic candour and simplicity. In front of him on the sand stands a small seagull, almost posing for its portrait, quite safe in close proximity to the large, intense man. Arthur Boyd conveys a beautiful image of his father in harmony with nature, kind to all living creatures and yet isolated by his difficult personality and his epilepsy. It is a universal image that places man in the infinite space of life (the sea), against the menacing and inevitable shadow of death (the black cloud). Art in this painting provides meaning and illumination (reflected light on the artist's face), in a life that is otherwise dark and lonely." (J McKenzie, Arthur Boyd Art & Life, London, 2000, pp. 20-22)