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Boyd, Guy Martin à Beckett (1923–1988)

by Brenda Niall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Guy Martin à Beckett Boyd (1923-1988), sculptor and potter, was born on 12 June 1923 at Murrumbeena, Melbourne, third child of William Merric Boyd, potter, and his wife Doris Lucy Eleanor Bloomfield, née Gough, a painter. Grandson of the painters Arthur Merric and Emma Minnie Boyd, nephew of the novelist Martin Boyd, cousin of the architect Robin Boyd, and brother of the painters and potters Arthur and David Boyd, Guy never doubted his vocation as an artist. He chose sculpture, he said, because in painting he could not compete with Arthur, the brother he always revered. The à Beckett family fortunes, on which his father depended, dwindled to nothing in the Depression years. Guy and his brothers, for whom a Murrumbeena state primary school education had to suffice, took labouring jobs. In 1941-46 he served in the Militia. A committed pacifist, he refused to bear arms and worked at first as a draughtsman. Conflicts with his superiors were resolved when he was posted in 1944 to the 103rd Convalescent Depot, Ingleburn, New South Wales, to teach pottery to the patients.

Taking up a Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme grant, Boyd enrolled in 1945 at the East Sydney Technical College, where he studied sculpture under Lyndon Dadswell. In 1946 at Neutral Bay he founded a commercial pottery which, confusingly, he called the Martin Boyd Pottery. With moderate prices, functional designs and Australian decorative motifs, his products were popular with postwar homemakers.

On 22 April 1950 at St John’s Church of England, Darlinghurst, Boyd married 18-year-old Barbara Dawn Cooper, a secretary; they separated within a year. Divorced in 1952 and having sold his Sydney business, he moved back to Melbourne and, on 1 December at the office of the government statist, married Phyllis Nairn, an Adelaide-born graduate in social work. He moved into a disused pottery at his father’s property in Murrumbeena. After twenty months of communal living with his parents, and with Arthur and his sister Mary Perceval and their families, Guy bought his first home, at nearby Oakleigh. While his second commercial venture, the Guy Boyd Pottery, flourished, with Phyllis as an active business partner, Guy began to sculpt part time. In 1964 he was confident enough to sell the pottery, move to Brighton, and start his career in sculpture. At a time when abstract sculpture prevailed, he was committed to figurative art, but he soon won high praise for his finely textured work in bronze and in aluminium overlaid with silver, and for the strength and delicacy of his female nudes. His first big commissions included wall sculptures for Tullamarine (1970) and Sydney (1971) airports.

Study in Europe and Asia, on a Churchill fellowship in 1969, persuaded Boyd to test his work internationally. In 1976 he moved to Toronto, Canada; his wife and their youngest four children accompanied him. With access to the big galleries of Chicago and New York, his sculpture flourished. It was a bonus that `being a Boyd’ was not an issue, as it was in Australia. However, it was family feeling that brought him home. On a visit in 1980 he could not resist buying his grandfather’s house in Edward Street, Sandringham, because it held happy memories of childhood.

The Boyds returned to Melbourne in 1981 to restore the house and live in it. Continuing his career as a sculptor, with major works that expressed his Christian faith, Guy had also become a public figure who did not shirk controversy. A former president (1973-76) of the Port Phillip Bay Conservation Council, he remained active in environmental matters: he was arrested in 1983 while protesting against the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania. With his wife and elder daughters he campaigned tirelessly to reverse Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction for murdering her baby daughter, Azaria, at Ayers Rock (Uluru).

Conservative in his views on religion and family life, but ready to defy the law for his pacifist beliefs; ambitious to make his name in art, but selflessly dedicated to causes that depleted his energies, Boyd was a man of great charm, good looks and gentleness, with an inflexible will. In his remarkable family, he was never just `another Boyd’. He died on 26 April 1988 from coronary artherosclerosis and was buried with Anglican rites in Brighton cemetery. His wife, and their five daughters and two sons, survived him. Boyd had held one-man exhibitions in all Australian capital cities and in London, Montreal, Chicago and New York. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia and in the State galleries of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • A. von Bertouch and P. Hutchings, Guy Boyd (1976)
  • B. Niall, The Boyds (2002).

Citation details

Brenda Niall, 'Boyd, Guy Martin à Beckett (1923–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/boyd-guy-martin-a-beckett-12240/text21957, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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