Boyd and Evans (Fionnuala Boyd; Leslie Evans) The Wall 1986

Artwork details

The Wall
Date 1986
Medium Acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 914 x 1372 mm
frame: 938 x 1391 x 41 mm
Acquisition Presented by Philip and Psyche Hughes through Angela Flowers Gallery and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Not on display

Catalogue entry

T04909 The Wall 1986

Acrylic on canvas 914 × 1372 (36 × 54) Inscribed on reverse "The Wall' | Boyd & Evans ‘86’ t.r.
Presented by Philip and Psyche Hughes through Angela Flowers Gallery and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987
Prov: Purchased from the artists by Philip and Psyche Hughes 1987
Exh: Boyd and Evans, Angela Flowers Gallery, June 1986 (13); Boyd & Evans: Paintings 1986–8, Angela Flowers, April–May 1988 (no number, repr. p.2 in col.)
Lit: Mel Gooding, ‘Boyd and Evans’, Art Monthly, July–Aug. 1986, pp.14–15; Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1987–8, 1988, p.18 repr.; Jeremy Isaacs, ‘Go East Young Man’, Modern Painters, vol.6, no.3, Autumn 1993, p.69, repr. p.70

‘The Wall’ depicts, in the foreground, a man wearing a red baseball cap and some form of brace over a white T-shirt. He is sitting on what appears to be a terrace or patio, with coloured lights strung along the brick walls to the side and behind him. A young woman with blonde hair, who is wearing a green shirt and a dark coloured skirt, stands with her back to the viewer, looking towards a green meadow and sunlit trees in the distance.

The painting was executed by Fionnuala Boyd and Leslie Evans working together and more or less equally on all stages (although all their work is made in collaboration, they sometimes paint individually on works they have designed together, but this was not the case here). It was painted at their studio in Milton Keynes. In a letter to the compiler dated 26 April 1994 Fionnuala Boyd wrote that she thought the painting had taken about a month to complete.

The composition was made up from four colour transparencies photographed by the artists about eight years earlier. By the mid-1980s Boyd and Evans had a collection of more than 20,000 transparencies, which they had taken with the intention of their being available for use in paintings. When they first began to collect these transparencies, they sorted and stored them according to various subject categories. However, this became too complicated, and they began to store them, instead, simply in date order. Despite the size of the collection, the artists can remember their transparencies well enough to be able to find any kind of detail that they want for a painting. In conversation with the compiler on 8 January 1988, the artists said that the point of departure for each painting is not usually a particular photograph, but their wish to find a subject that has a certain mood. In an interview given in 1985 the artists described their way of working:

We would spend weeks looking at slides and we would reject large numbers of them there and then, ‘That's interesting, that's not interesting’, then we would start saying, ‘What about this with that?’ We've got a figure here or a landscape there or two people might fit together in a way that would be consistent with the kind of idea we were pursuing. So it gets narrower, and we start editing, edit from thousands of slides to tens and at that point we'll start doing some kind of sketches which relate to specific photographs. So then we're saying what about this figure with that figure and that figure and we have quite complicated formal compositional considerations that in a sense help us to place things in the picture. Eventually we'll project the elements of the picture the size that we're going to do - a relative size - do a drawing, and then we'll cut out round the figure, put this figure with that one, move them apart, or closer, decide it's too big, too small and eventually we'll arrive at the composition we're going to make the painting of and it's very, very specific. We know exactly what it's going to be like. It's quite likely though because we just take photographs at different times that we'll have to alter the colour balance, or one picture might be out of focus, one might be sharp, and you'll deal with that, sometimes we'll ignore it, we'll make a point of the fact that this is an imported image.

(quoted in Boyd + Evans 1982–85, exh. broadsheet,
Milton Keynes Exhibition Gallery 1985)

The image of the man wearing a baseball cap was derived from a photograph taken in a café at Monon, Indiana, on 30 June 1978. It was one of more than seven thousand photographs taken during a trip to the United States made in 1977–8. On their return, Boyd and Evans held an exhibition of sixty large prints made from these transparencies at the Angela Flowers Gallery (Boyd and Evans: American Photographs, April–May 1979). A print of this particular photograph was included in this show (no.41, ‘Monon, Indiana 30.6.78’). Monon is an out-of-the-way town between Chicago and Indianapolis, on route US 421, where the artists stopped by chance at a cafe. In conversation, they said they had probably taken the photograph to record the curious background of wooden panelling behind the man (the panelling dominates the image, and the man's head and shoulders appear only at the lower right). The artists knew nothing about the man, who was unaware that he was being photographed (all their subjects are taken unawares). His right arm had been amputated, and the photograph, and the painting, show a brace that he wore. The painting is an accurate translation of the image of the man shown in the slide, but in reverse. The painting continues lower than the photograph and a few inches at the lower edge were invented. None of the original background is included.

The terrace in the foreground was photographed at a private house in Sandy, Bedfordshire, in September 1979. The house belonged to friends of the artists, and was lit with coloured lights for a party. The photograph was taken in the evening, shortly after sunset on a fine day, combining both artificial and natural lighting. A half-seen shoulder and part of a head of a man in the lower right was ignored, as was the open landscape in the background.

The landscape background in T04909 was photographed on the same occasion, but earlier in the day. The view of the farmland was seen by looking to the left of the buildings shown in the above-mentioned photograph. The distant clearing between the trees was still in sunlight, but the trees in the middle ground were already in the shadow of a hill.

The young woman was photographed in the interior of the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne, on 29 September 1979. The artists visited Cologne for a commission, and photographed this girl alongside a man, both reading a label on the wall of the museum. The lighting in the photograph was unusual, as the woman's head was strikingly lit by a spotlight intended for a piece of sculpture in front of her. In the painting the contrast of light and shadow on her head and back is less dramatic, but still evident, and implies a combination of reflected sunlight and light from the yellow bulb to her right. The colours of the girl's hair and shirt are as in the photograph. The photograph, however, showed her only down to her waist; her skirt and the ends of her fingers of her right hand were invented in the painting.

In composing T04909 the artists began with the photograph of the foreground building. They were particularly interested in the rather odd feeling of the illumination created by the coloured lights at dusk. They admire the Surrealist artist René Magritte, and the terrace scene reminded them of his well known series of paintings, all called ‘The Empire of Lights’, which show houses, dark as at night, against a bright daylit sky (repr. Harry Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas & Images, 1977, nos. 381–91). They next found the photograph of the girl to go with this, and then chose the landscape. They then considered various subjects for the foreground before settling on the image of the man wearing a baseball cap.

The composition of the painting was tried out in numerous drawings sketched from the slides. The slides were then projected onto drawing paper and the relevant parts were outlined in order to check the design. In this case no geometrical system was used for the placing of the figures, although with other paintings Boyd and Evans have proportioned their canvases into thirds or quarters, and the diagonals of these areas, to use as a guide in arranging their compositions. With ‘The Wall’, they felt that the composition already had a sufficiently strong structure, with the contrast between the depth at the left and the more constricted space of the terrace. A full-size drawing was made of the design, which was then painted by both artists, using prints from the slides as a guide. It was painted thinly and evenly, with the exception of the wall of the shed, where each brick was outlined with impasto. Up to the time of their exhibition at Angela Flowers Gallery in 1984, Boyd and Evans used stencils and sprayguns to paint. They then changed their technique and began to use brushes in paintings exhibited in 1986 and later, aiming to have more direct control and the possibility of using brighter colours.

Initially, Boyd and Evans intended to title T04909 ‘The Wall's Tale’, linking the work to three larger paintings with similar titles, also exhibited at Angela Flowers Gallery in June 1986. These were ‘The Step's Tale’, 1986, 1220 × 1830 (48 × 72), ‘The Tree's Tale’, 1986, 1220 × 1830 (48 × 72), and ‘Swimmer's Tale’, 1986, 1220 × 1830 (48 × 72). The artists finally preferred the shorter title, ‘The Wall’, as they felt that the former title emphasised the setting too much, whereas the figures were the more important elements.

In conversation, the artists gave no hint that there might be some hidden or implicit meaning in this title, and insisted that it was for everyone to interpret in their own way. However, their paintings have often had odd subjects that imply some further significance. Occasionally, this is evident, as in a painting of troops (‘On the Map’, 1987–8, repr. Angela Flowers exh. cat., 1988, p.5) or of street violence (‘Summer Riots’, 1981, repr. Boyd & Evans: Drawings, exh. cat., Angela Flowers Gallery 1982, centre pages). An extra-pictural theme is perhaps suggested in ‘The Wall’ by the possibility that the man had lost his arm in Vietnam, whether or not this was actually the case.

Writing about the expectancy and curiosity aroused by many of Boyd and Evans's paintings, the critic Mel Gooding (1986, p.15) pointed to the artists’ ‘commitment to the narrative, with an undisguised ingredient of psychological drama’. About the figures in their paintings, he wrote (ibid., p.14):

who are these people? What are they up to? We are given no answers to these questions; indeed the titles are deliberately non-commital or enigmatic. But the titles also often emphasise the importance of the narrative implication, and relate to the essentially dramatic mode of the presentation: each situation is composed of a place, a time, a dramatis personae, and the coiled potential for action.

Gooding (ibid.) related the implicit mystery in Boyd and Evans's works to their meticulous style and use of photographic sources:

Their pictures catch ...something of the poignancy of the photographic images that they imitate: they appear to capture a moment lost forever; unlike the moment of the photography proper, however, the moment within the painting is in fictional time. The perfect statis that the image presents is likewise a fiction; it has the unreality of the perfectly focussed photograph, its denial of dynamic mutability, its illusory arrest of the unstoppable flow of real things in real time. Part of the affective force of their work derives from these contradictions, in the disturbance that this play with time sets up in the observer.

He concluded (ibid., p.15):

Their essential preoccupation is with the oddness of things, the uncertainties that lurk in the quotidian round; their work captures that extraordinary light that falls for an instant upon the scene of our doings, and in whose hyper-clarity we see ourselves as actors in a story not of our telling.

The artists have approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

About this artwork