The Angry Penguins were an avant-garde movement of the mid-20th Century in Australia. Beginning in the cultish milieu of the Heide set under the patronage of John and Sunday Reed, the ‘Penguins’ included Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, John Perceval, Albert Tucker, Danila Vassilef and Arthur Boyd. This was a watershed moment in Australian art that pioneered innovative and distinctly Australian responses to the landscape, city scapes and ideas of surrealism and mythology that were inextricably linked with Australian iconography. Later, as artists began to experiment with abstraction, Arthur Boyd remained loyal to the representation of the figure, later joining a group known as the ‘Antipodeans’ with a strident brief to defend the tradition of the image in art. Bendigo Art Gallery has a significant holding of Boyd’s work from this period with many of Boyd’s Antipodean contemporaries including John Perceval, John Brack and Charles Blackman currently on display.
Boyd painted mythological and allegorical stories draying on Classical Greek and Christian mythology embedded with a social conscious. In the 1950s, Boyd travelled throughout Central Australia and was deeply shocked by the plight of Indigenous peoples. At the time Australia was in the midst of the devastating Stolen Generation in which children of mixed-race were systematically removed from their family homes and by Government agencies and placed into institutions or fostered into white families to be assimilated into Anglo-Australian culture. Boyd was deeply affected by this and by way of humanitarian response created the Brides series. Painted in 1958, The Bridegroom Waiting for his Bride to Grow Up (pictured) illustrates the Australia’s racial divide through a fictional love story between an Indigenous man and a mixed-race bride. This series was exhibited in 1960 at David Zwirner in London and served to bring national concerns to an international stage. Boyd’s Kelvinator Fridge painting Leda and the Swan is also on display. These works also offer a broader comment of humanity and unrequited love – the figures are endlessly waiting, but also self-conscious of their own futility as they are unwittingly overcome by the bigger political and social machine. With the world in a state of refugee crisis, whole generations are growing up in ‘limbo’ at mercy of government policy, half a decade on from Boyd’s paintings this theme resonates strongly today.