Boyle Family: Works from the 1960s & '70s

October 2009

Publication: The Times

Collectively - as Boyle Family - Mark Boyle, his wife Joan Hills, and their children Georgina and Sebastian create life-size simulacra of highly specific locations across the globe. Despite Mark Boyle’s in death in 2005, the family continues to make work under their joint name. In the late ‘60s locations for their ‘World Series’, for example, were chosen by guests throwing darts at an enormous global map. One thousand random locations were selected and Boyle Family continues collectively to record what they find on the ground,  literally,  irrespective of difficulties presented by climate, access or terrain.  Their astonishingly convincing technique remains a closely guarded secret, although their stated aim – to record objective physical reality without comment – seems simple enough.


The Boyles' work raises a number of important issues, while also defying conventional labelling. It is neither sculpture nor painting; at the same time the terms assemblage and installation seem incomplete. However, its links with these art forms are strong as, at its root, it pushes the idea of mimesis to its logical conclusion. Part of the Boyles' technique is to replicate as accurately as possible their chosen location – this is achieved through the careful, painstaking use of materials such as fibre-glass and paint as well as by incorporating some of the actual material found at the site, such as brick, earth, concrete, sand, dirt, stones and shells. It is often impossible, without touching these works, to tell where artifice ends and real objects take over. The idea of scale is also crucially important in that the places they represent are exact dimensional copies.


These are works which present a view of place as seen from above, although like painting, they are wall-mounted.  To be forced to look at a part of a beach, pavement or roadway from a fresh perspective is clearly part of the Boyles' agenda; in doing so the 'ordinary' is elevated to the extraordinary. Broken cobblestones patched with tar or concrete, or paving slabs strewn with rubble and scored with tyre marks are accorded a status entirely different from what they normally hold.  It is the visual equivalent of found poetry. Although the Boyles have worked in highly diverse locations, their work seems more comfortable and assured when dealing with urban or industrial locations. Perhaps this is because it is easier to recreate man made materials, or that, for example, patterning and texture encountered on sand after the tide has receded is more complex than random street surfaces.  A work such as 'Study of Red Cobbles with Broken Slate' (from the Red Causeway Series of 1975) is a tour de force and one can only stand in wonder at the sheer technical skill involved in producing such a convincing illusion complete with gravel, wood fragments, and the indentations caused by age and use.


The most obvious question these works provoke is, “why have they been made?” The answer which comes back resoundingly is because the Boyles so clearly wish us to re-examine the world beneath our feet and see it for what it really is: a fascinating combination of texture, colour, material and pattern.