Richard Boyer | Magic and Mystery

Richard Boyer captures the mood of big-city life

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

Richard Boyer, Cafe in Portland, oil, 14 x 20.

Richard Boyer, Cafe in Portland, oil, 14 x 20.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

A lone hotdog vendor leans against his cart on a bustling New York City street. It’s an unseasonably warm November night in the city that never sleeps, and people are hurrying here and there, but no one wants to order a hotdog. When he painted the scene, artist Richard Boyer captured the vendor staring into his cell phone, perhaps sending a text or reading an email. “The cell phone is the vendor’s only consolation,” Boyer says. “It’s likely he was bored out of his mind. In the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, he is still alone. And I wanted to convey that in the painting.”

Evidently the judges for the Art Renewal Center’s annual art competition thought Boyer accomplished his mission; the melancholy New York nocturne is a finalist in the prestigious competition this year. The International ARC Salon received 3,750 entries from 69 countries, a record number. About 1,000 entries were selected as finalists.

Boyer has a talent for portraying life in the big city. The artist, who’s based in Salt Lake City, spent three days in Manhattan last fall, clocking about 10 miles on foot each day as he gathered reference material for paintings. This month one of those works, DEPARTURE FROM NEW YORK CITY [see page 57], is on display in Oil Painters of America’s national show in Steamboat Springs, CO. Over the past five years, Boyer has become known for painting daily life in locales from Portland, ME, to Portland, OR. He walks, observes, sketches, and clicks his camera on the streets of Seattle, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. The resulting images include rain-soaked boulevards at rush hour and hipster cafés at happy hour. A Boyer painting invites viewers into a scene to create their own narratives: The artist offers just enough information to evoke a bit of magic and mystery in their imaginations.

The artist says that two elements, light and water, are usually enough to serve as inspiration. The atmospheric DEPARTURE FROM NEW YORK CITY is a good example. On the first day of his Manhattan sojourn, Boyer ambled along the East River on his way to Battery Park. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting over the river. Boyer positioned himself underneath the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. Bright light silhouetted the Brooklyn Bridge, and he recalls seeing the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. Just then a slow-moving tugboat lumbered down the waterway, pushing a barge. “The way the light was bleeding around the bridges and boats really caught my interest,” Boyer says. “I had to capture the blinding reflection off the water.”

It wasn’t always this way; early in his career, the artist focused on rural scenes, mainly European landscapes. Boyer recounts that they “sold like hotcakes.” Then the recession hit in 2008. “I guess no one was going to Europe because of the economy,” he reasons.

As the nation recovered, Boyer noticed a gradual shift in the art market. Gallery owners began asking him to paint urban scenes. Young art lovers, they said, preferred man-made wonders over natural wonders. “These younger collectors were drawn to gritty subway scenes and nighttime city streets with taxis, traffic, and traffic lights,” Boyer says.

Fortunately, as the artist explored the genre, he discovered that he relished the change. Depicting the high energy of the city was a catalyst that resulted in a looser style and fewer brush strokes in his works. A more abstract sensibility emerged in the urban paintings, and Boyer welcomed it. The tools of his trade expanded to include small rollers and squeegees. “I am now consciously trying to be more abstract,” he says.

Boyer grew up in the town of Williamsville near Niagara Falls in upstate New York. His father was an astrophysicist who helped develop the space shuttle for a company working with NASA. Growing up with a research scientist as a father, Boyer says he was taught to analyze and question various natural phenomena, such as, “Why are the distant hills bluer than the foreground?” Such analysis and questioning helped him understand the subtleties of the visual world.

At 7 years old, the future artist experienced a profound loss when his mother died. And it was about that time, Boyer recalls, that he began to draw and doodle. “I was creating my own fantasy world,” he says, describing his early interest in art.

In middle school and high school he took what he calls “generic art classes.” But his father also insisted he continue taking math classes, perhaps hoping that his son would follow in his footsteps.
By then Boyer was interested in science, but only as subject matter to paint. “I remember National Geographic magazine had this one artist who painted his version of alien worlds, and those were some of my first oil paintings, too,” he says. “In high school, I did a large painting of the Andromeda Galaxy and sold it at a street fair. From then on, I was hooked.”

When it came time for college, Boyer continued to follow his passion for art. But he wanted a change of scenery that included opportunities for skiing, another passion. He chose the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. For the next few years he studied under the direction of renowned portrait painter Alvin Gittins [1922-1981]. Gittins taught the basics with a rigor comparable to “a drill sergeant,” Boyer recalls, insisting on intensive study of anatomy and perspective at a time when most schools focused on expressionism. “Gittins taught us how to see. He walked around our easels in life-drawing classes, smoking small cigars. He would stop, hold up one of the students’ paintings, and say things like, ‘What’s wrong with this forearm?’” Boyer says. “Gittins told the student to fix it by the time he came back around the artist’s circle.”

In 1981, when he graduated with his fine-arts degree, wanderlust struck again. This time Boyer set his sights on Europe, settling and painting in Germany for the next five years. He studied German at the University of Kiel and later moved from Kiel to Berlin, immersing himself in the Bohemian art scene. It was in Berlin that he met his future wife, Karin, a native of Stockholm.

From his home base in Berlin, Boyer traveled across western Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, including Syria and Jordan. His art education flourished as he visited galleries and museums, absorbing the works of the great masters. It was during his European stint that he also discovered the works of Swedish impressionist Anders Zorn [1860-1920]. Boyer admired the way Zorn trained his creative eye on daily life in small Swedish villages, his paintings peppered with images of ordinary folks doing ordinary things—dancing, playing music, bathing, and baking bread.

Today Boyer splits his time between Salt Lake City and Kilafors, Sweden, where his wife’s family owns a summer home. Coincidentally, it’s not too far from Mora, where Zorn once lived with his wife, Emma. Next to the house is a small museum that displays Zorn’s paintings—a place Boyer has visited many times.

By the way, Boyer paints not only cityscapes these days but also European and American landscapes. A viewer can expect to see a range of subjects in his oeuvre—a Copenhagen shipyard, coastal Oregon, Zion National Park, or an outdoor market in Provence. His body of work also includes the figure. These works can project a romantic, bucolic sensibility reminiscent of Zorn. Some feature images of his daughters and their Swedish cousins. As in Zorn’s work, the people in Boyer’s scenes are engaging in daily life, doing everything from reading a book to rowing a boat.

However, the figurative works are different in style than his edgier cityscapes, says Jim Peterson, owner of Mockingbird Gallery in Bend, OR. Peterson has represented Boyer for more than 25 years and has watched his career evolve in different directions. “Richard’s figurative works are more realistic than his looser city scenes,” he says. “I call him a hybrid because he works in both representational and more abstract styles.”

For Peterson, Boyer is always a top seller at his gallery, whatever genre he chooses. “Early on, his depictions of harbors in Amsterdam and Bruges sold well. Now he is painting American cities,” Peterson says. “Richard can set up his easel anywhere and capture a scene.”

As this story was going to press, Boyer was preparing for a three-person show at Howard/Mandville Gallery in Kirkland, WA. The theme: the streets of Seattle. Although he has painted for many years, the artist is fond of reflecting on an old Chinese proverb about how the road to learning goes on forever and the journey never ends. Boyer tells the fable of the Chinese philosopher who, when asked when he will know everything, replies “never.” In the same spirit, Boyer says, “When will I do my best painting? The last day before I die.”

Mockingbird Gallery, Bend, OR; New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA; Mountain Trails Galleries, Sedona, AZ; Howard/Mandville Gallery, Kirkland, WA; Authentique Gallery, St. George, UT; Berkley Gallery, Warrenton, VA; Southam Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art May 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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