PRINT November 1963

Three California Artists

Three California Artists: Keith Boyle

KEITH BOYLE WAS BORN IN 1930 in Defiance, Ohio, and received his B.F.A. from Iowa State College. He lives with his wife and two children in Palo Alto, where he teaches at Stanford University.

Until last year, Boyle had experimented with almost every contemporary idiom, until he arrived at a format that is at the same time novel and within the mainstream of 20th century painting. Using neon acrylic paint to offset the geometric material he manipulates, Boyle effects an electrically exciting sign-scape. He opens up the canvas by refusing to balance the forms; his painting always reads from side to side, top to bottom or center to edge. In part, this is a negative response to the formalism that crippled his work for eleven years. This multi-directional way of approaching subject matter was not only used by Mondrian, but is also in the tradition of great American painting.

Boyle’s large, meticulously-penciled drawings are the keynote to his painting. In outward appearance they are strikingly different, for they are black and white quasi-realistic figure studies that have been carefully dehumanized. In tone, but not in style, they resemble Francis Bacon’s work (an artist Boyle greatly admires). They are sinister and satirical. They are too bizarre, too full of responses Boyle does not want in his canvases, to be out standing. Their nastiness is occasionally blatant enough to make them appear almost as cartoons. However, when these morbid figures are translated into the geometric forms and low-keyed symbols of his painting their bite is enveloped by a lyrical subtlety. That element, which in his drawings is a weighty indictment of the human personality becomes, in his painting, a dialectic between form and content.

In the absence of a general moral crisis many younger painters have turned to the formal elements in art and have made them the springboard for their ideas. Boyle juxtaposes the simple forms of the constructivist gestalt with the simple outlines of the most everyday kind of symbols to reach a deliberately equivocal statement.

His color is not pretty; it is gaudy and lurid. His x-marks, chevrons and “civil-defense signs” are symbols and also components of a painting, without much verbal significance in their own right. He refers to his painting as landscape, yet it is a parody of landscape. His art appears to be perceptual and intellectual, but it is an intuitive moral evaluation of what is and what is not—done in a manner of most refined irony.

Keith Boyle is just coming into his own. His painting at this time is almost consistently of exceptionally high caliber. In little more than a year he has become one of the most exciting and imaginative young painters in northern California.

Joanna C. Magloff