Curator's radar: Roger Boyce - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the Curator's radar feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

When Roger Boyce’s work The Illustrated History of Painting, consisting of 100 small oil paintings, was first shown, it became embroiled in its own history-making scenario. Its exhibition, at the Christchurch Art Gallery, coincided with the September earthquake that hit the city in 2010, seeing it temporarily closed.

Wind the clock back several months before the earthquake and Christchurch Art Gallery curator Justin Paton visits Boyce’s Christchurch studio to see how the artist is progressing on this massive undertaking – to paint the history of painting in 100 panels. Paton visited when Boyce was 10 down, but even at this early point he was aware this was a major statement in the artist’s career. “Boyce was totally involved in the challenge of the craft of painting 100 paintings and he felt an increasing fluency as the immersive project continued – the virtuosity of the painting increased as he progressed towards the 100th work, with these later works taking on the qualities of Persian miniatures or icons. It is one of the most ambitious things to emerge from a Christchurch painter in the past few years,” Paton reflects.

Boyce, an American artist from New York who moved to Christchurch and the Canterbury School of Fine Arts about 10 years ago, has become a major presence in Christchurch art circles – teaching, blogging, painting and participating in the local art scene in post-quake Christchurch. Paton sees this new work, which he recently acquired for the Christchurch Art Gallery’s collection, as a consolidation and extension of previous shows. It has, he believes, expanded Boyce’s national profile. In each of the 100 paintings, an artist confronts the pitfalls of being a painter in the 21st century.

“Each panel has a devotional quality more like historical illuminations than the heroic gallery-scale paintings we might otherwise expect to see,” says Paton. “These are glowing gems that draw us across the room to discover what creative misdemeanours the painter is up to. A desperate sort of gallows humour and irreverent energy carries through the series as the painter high dives into an ocean of paint, or undergoes acts of studio self-harm, or is painted into a corner, trapped by cunning acts of creation. Boyce takes a wry, cynical and deeply affecting view of the kinds of inner turmoil that painters confront. He takes pleasure in finding a place for painting amid the great tangle of debates about art.” Half of the series will be presented again in a collection show called Lift when the gallery reopens sometime in 2012.

Sue Gardiner

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