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The Improbability of Life in the Mind of Someone Dying

Forum > Art Theory and History

by babelicious
Article of the Month March 2008
ThePainterSpeaksSmall (With titular apologies to Damien Hirst)

Roger Boyce is as old as dirt. Thus raising the question has New Zealand and Christchurch in particular become a sort of elephant’s burial ground for the international cultural/intellectual set?

In his current Tourette’s Hotel exhibition occupying Brooke Gifford’s entire gallery Boyce fields a group of paintings that would feel right at home in a Rosicrucian museum. Meaning they are all but mummified. That is not to take away from the paintings’ evident accomplishments. Each painting is in fact a bravura aggregate of inventive and virtuoso technique.

The paintings are also conceptually deft rebuses of wordplay and image.
The core problem with Boyce’s paintings lies in the fact that both work and maker are well past their use by date.

Boyce a Nosferatu like figure who teaches painting at Canterbury’s School of Fine Arts is an enigmatic and reclusive man known more in Christchurch for his incendiary and galvanic critique than for his painting practice. Boyce is, unlike the typical academic,
reputedly a person of an ascetic temperament. Eulogies for academics are usually replete with stories of wine and gourmet food imbibing, tales of summers spent in Provence or Sicily, and sly asides about less than discrete assignations with comely post grads.

None of these things will be recounted at Boyce’s immanent graveside oration. He neither drinks nor (reportedly) fucks his students. More the shame, perhaps if he partook of life’s forbidden fruit his paintings would have less of a bug in amber feel.

Although filled with provocative images rendered lubriciously with layers of swoony high key colour Boyce’s expletive spiced eye candy served up on canvas are as inedible as the luscious looking rubber replicas of Peking Duck one sees hung in the windows of Chinese restaurants in Chinatowns the world over.

Willem de Kooning was to have said that oil paint was invented to render flesh. Or something along those lines. Unlike the rosy flesh of the artist (Reubens) de Kooning was referring to in his quip Boyce’s figures sport the look of the embalmer’s art. Their stucco encrusted faces betray no emotion other than perhaps ennui. Although engaged in virile enterprise such as a wrestling match with a well hung tri-colour bull Boyce’s little men don’t have the potency to ‘shoot’ their way out of a wet paper bag. The figures though ‘erect’ and poised for an aesthetic tussle are at their core impotent and angry homunculus. Lilliputian stand ins for their creator.

Boyce’s self-loathing and general dyspepsia about the arts endeavour are apparent in the art about art paintings Dumb Like a Painter and Artsy Twats. The fact that Boyce employs a female gendered euphemism (twat) to pejoratively refer to artsy types speaks to his misogyny specifically and to his apparent disillusionment with the visual arts in general.

The two Pool of Sodom paintings and occasional whiffs of homoeroticism in some of Boyce’s works are a mystery. One might speculate that Boyce’s acidosis over life in general and art in particular may stem from deep repression or closeting of a libidinous tendency of an alternate stripe. Wishing to avoid liable I’ll sidestep any overt explanations of works heretofore mentioned in this paragraph.

Despite the crypt like tenor of Boyce’s exhibition the show is alive with aesthetic possibility of a category that is (thankfully and will hopefully remain) new to the more virile styles traditionally associated with the south island. Judy Gifford is to be commended for showing the courage and perverse discernment to mount this problematic and provocative exhibition. Brava Judy!

Photos have been cut and pasted from Brooke/Gifford without permissions thus generating yet another apology for appropriation.
artsysmall Praxis-Sm arssmall

1 to 20 of 93
cadmium hed
6 articles & 432 comments since 30 Apr 2006
scathing babelicious, scathing....were you one of the students he declined to sleep with?
1 articles & 323 comments since 27 Dec 2007
I guess that means you quite liked the show but really dislike the guy honey babelicious?

quite a complimentary about of bile expended saying so, backhanded compliment but still...

Art Vanderlay
1 articles & 57 comments since 19 Oct 2007
Is this a review or a death threat?
75 comments since 16 Nov 2006
All I'm wondering is how 'discrete' these comely postgrads are? What, do they stop at the hips? Ankles, knees, wrists??
1 articles & 30 comments since 13 Mar 2008
Alright alright alright step forward in an orderly manner I'll take you on one at a time.

Cad Hed      

Eeeeeeew dicknail I'm eating. Sleep with an academic. Don't make me siiiiiiiiiiiiiiik. Apologies to Courtney L.


You don't know me well enough to call me honey      honey.

Art V

Death threat? Why would I bother? Boyce is almost ready to bite (or should I say gum) the biscuit on his own.


Ever the school marm.


Kwitcherbitchin. There is more description of Boyce's "actual art" in my review than there is in your "entirely brilliant" complaint.

1 articles & 323 comments since 27 Dec 2007

you remind me very strongly of another honey I knew briefly in another life.
75 comments since 16 Nov 2006
I have the same sneaking suspicion...
cadmium hed
6 articles & 432 comments since 30 Apr 2006
baitilicious the trap and everyone takes a byte.
4 comments since 19 May 2007
I enjoy the mysteries of homoeroticism and libidinous tendencies of an alternate stripe. What's wrong with that?
1 articles & 323 comments since 27 Dec 2007
thanks for sharing young. good luck with that
cadmium hed
6 articles & 432 comments since 30 Apr 2006
I enjoy the myositis of homileticism and licentious textualities of an ARTiculate type. What's right about that?
1 articles & 30 comments since 13 Mar 2008
Dearest Young

As do I. As do I!

My gripe is that those alternate tendencies are repressed (leaking out interstitially from the work's conceptual fractures) rather than celebrated in Boyce's images.

Please note. Mystery is a term that was employed by patriarchal types to cajole women's sexuality back into the (heterosexual) domestic closet. That term mystery should (when applied to sexual matters - particularly orientation) when employed these days be accompanied by at least a modicum of political consciousness regarding its historical context(s).
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
  1. Best title for a review ever. I can't believe no one has ever put Hirst on his head like that before. Although there's a significant difference from Hirst's "Physical Impossibility" to Improbability. But fair enough, we have to give old Boyce a chance at least.
  2. I suspect this was written by Boyce himself. Who else could / would dare?
  3. The explanation under this review's title is a great tie-in to the titles of the works. On the sheets of paper up at the gallery there are explanations in brackets next to the titles for the ignorant Christchurch audience. These were apparently not wanted by Boyce but insisted on by gallery staff. eg "Praxis (The combination of theory and practice) and "Pool of Sodom (From James Joyce), etc.
1 articles & 30 comments since 13 Mar 2008
Howevermuch I love you and howevermuch I blush at your too kind compliments about my review I do take umbrage over any characterization by you or anyone else that I am in my writing style or corpus anything like the antediluvian Boyce.

Must I, like the female mardis gras inebriates, girls gone wild girls, or biker mag chicks, flash my tits to get some respect around here?
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
No offense intended.

It's just that I don't know (and cannot conceive of) anyone who knows Boyce as well as the writer of this review clearly does and can also write so well.

And your style is very much like Boyce's. Although (open) self criticism isn't quite his style. Although perhaps recently he has been more so.

I'd be completely stoked if you weren't him. To be humbled and shown I don't know who all the good writers are in Christcurch would be great! Not that it really matters anyway.
1 articles & 30 comments since 13 Mar 2008

You intuit correctly that I do know (of) and have met Boyce on more than one cultural occasion. I was so repeatedly taken aback by his unfortunate manner that I made it a point to make inquiries among his colleagues and students. Some of whom I knew previous to his arrival in Christchurch.

When I saw his work for the first time at Brooke Gifford everything jelled for me and I determined to
write a review/expose.

I am a long time lurker at Artbash and I may go back to lurking after my one outing. An outing in which your regular contributors and your good self suspect and accuse me of being several different other people. Sigh. 
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
"his unfortunate manner"


I never accused, I only suspected.

OK I'll take your word for it. Boyce has told me he never looks at this site, so it always was unlikely anyway.

Back to the work...

I think the repressed vibe gives the work strength and tension. It makes the confusing, hard to get, hard to pin down.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005

babelicious' fascinatingly devious ad hominem attack on the Boyce show claims the works are inedible, but looking at the Brooke/Gifford documentation , <http://www.brookegiffordgallery.co.nz/exhib/1440> the evidence indicates that Christchurch is damn lucky to have in its midst such a provocative and intelligent exhibition. Even if Boyce happens to be compulsively belligerent, a misogynist and socially dysfunctional, so what! The work he has made here is rivettingly fresh and innovative in its incorporation of circus burlesque with art commentary and social observation.

It is a tragedy Boyce has no dealer in Auckland, for the works would have sold out on opening night - and his skill with painted language acknowledged. I've never met the guy, have no wish to, but this show looks stupendously great. I wish him well.

3 articles & 203 comments since 2 Oct 2007
Having endured 3 weeks of artschool makes me an expert in matters art....I too love these paintings, the homoeroticism doesn,t look to repressed to me.Brilliant.
1 articles & 30 comments since 13 Mar 2008
Well excuuuuuuuse me. I do believe I did speak to the work and the man.

Boyce is no Caravaggio. Caravaggio's brilliantly transformative and tenebroso renderings of street people (as divines) are filled to overflowing with eros. Boyce exhibition as solipsistic wax museum is a veritable thanatopolis. The painters figures are not alive have never been alive and will never come to life.

The paintings are as John Hurrell describes them "provocative" and "innovative" but so are rejigged weapons systems on offer at an arms trade fair. I am not silly enough to imply that the scale of harm in Boyce's work approaches that of an arms merchant but I would go so far as to say that the fact Boyce is the sole Senior Lecturer in painting at Ilam puts his educational charges at risk.

The risk lies in the introduction to the south island and new zealand of a virulent stylistic model of practice that is at odds with the traditionally virile (and I would describe Caravaggio's painting style as virile) tendencies of mainland painters. Virility is at the heart of the fact that the south island is noted for its successively robust painting tradition. We risk losing that tradition as Boyce trains more and more young painters to adopt a hybrid and mulish night of the living dead approach to figuration.

Boyce's shambolic wax works figures act to dessicate ones nether regions while his logorrheic text serves as a salt-peter cure for active libidos. I left his exhibition wishing there was available to me the female equivalent of viagra.

In regard to the images below:
Caravaggio's boy is filled with breath and life while Boyce's shallow-breathing man looks like nothing so much as Bela Lugosi's undead Count Dracula.

So there.
boy somnambulist
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