Boyle Family


Private Collection, UK 

Boyle Family's London Series, has its roots in construction and assemblage pieces from the early 1960s. In a neo-Dada style Mark Boyle and Susan Hill incorporated pieces of junk that they found around London, twisted metal, wire, old bicycles, wooden frames, into increasingly large assemblages that covered the walls of their London flats. In 1964, their approach to chance elements and the found object became more rigorous, and conscious choice was removed from the artistic process. Instead of selecting junk items, they instead used a grid device, thrown onto the ground, to demarcate the junk surface, meticulously transferring each piece and affixing it to their junk boards. Occasionally, however, the grid would land not upon junk but upon bare earth. Transferring sculptures from earth onto boards was extremely complicated, involving layers of resin as an adhesive but Boyle Family have never revealed their technique. After spending a month at Camber Sands in 1966 in East Rye experimenting with these techniques Boyle Family returned to their Holland Park Avenue flat to begin the Shepherd’s Bush Series show at the notoriously counter-culture Indica Gallery in Mason’s Yard, Piccadilly, London.

The London Series began in earnest in 1967. To remove the need to select sites for transferral, Mark Boyle purchased a map stretching from Shepherd Bush to Notting Hill, and then had friends and family throw darts at the map to decide locations. In an effort to avoid traffic and trouble they tended to do the site work very early in the morning, often on Sundays. To diffuse arguments, Boyle had a card printed, stating that he was director of the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology. The large pavement work that is now in the Tate collection, Holland Park Avenue Study, London Series, was made in two parts and on close inspection it is evident that the road part was made in dry conditions, while the pavement part shows traces of raindrops. Boyle and Hills embraced such serendipitous accidents.

In August 1968, Boyle and Hills took their project to its logical conclusion. Their flat in Holland Park Avenue was due to be demolished and there seemed little point in starting a new London Series in a different part of the city. Wanting the new project to be as objective as possible, they decided they should make random selections from the whole Earth surface. Boyle declared that the object of the project would be to ‘Take the actual surface coating of earth, dust, sand, mud, stone, pebbles, snow, grass or whatever. Hold it in the shape it was in on the site. Fix it. Make it permanent.’

In June 1969, their exhibition Journey to the Surface of the Earth opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. This was the first ‘solo’ show held at the ICA’s new home on the Mall. Billed as a collaboration between Boyle, The Sensual Laboratory and the Institute of Contemporary Archaeology, the exhibition featured seven very large pieces from the Shepherd’s Bush and London Series.

Adapted from Patrick Elliot, ‘Presenting Reality: An Introduction to Boyle Family’ in P. Elliot, B. Hare, A. Wilson, Boyle Family (Edinburgh, 2003).