Sebastian Smee on Arthur Boyd

Part of a series of new perspectives on portraiture commissioned for Archie Plus

Arthur Boyd

The mockers

1945
oil on canvas on hardboard
Purchased 1965
© AGNSW

Crowds and power. We know they go together. But what kind of crowd correlates with what kind of power? And when does communal purpose unravel into terrifying anarchy? This raw painting by Arthur Boyd gets me thinking about what crowds might have meant to him, in 1945, as he was discharged from the army and learning, bit by bit, of the almost unfathomable destruction of the Second World War. I love that he looked back in this moment to the sublime worldscapes and cacophonous tumult of Bruegel and Bosch. The mockers has meanings that were clearly personal to Boyd. But for me, right now, it speaks to the confusions and misgivings so many people feel in this moment of protest and polarisation: which crowd do we want to belong to? And do we want to be part of any crowd at all?

Sebastian Smee is an art critic from Australia who works at the Washington Post

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