born 1967 in Glasgow, Scotland
As a child, Martin Boyce recalls seeing a new housing estate go up in Hamilton, near Glasgow, which his family eventually moved into; it was surrounded by an area known as ‘the woods’. It left an impression: the dream of the place and the reality of the place, a bit of Los Angeles in west central Scotland. Encouraged by his art teacher, he applied his graphic skills to drawing album sleeves. He failed, however, in his first attempt to get into the Glasgow School of Art, and so worked for Virgin Records as a day job while attending night school. Eventually, he ended up in the Environmental Art Department, which produced a whole generation of Scottish contemporary artists who emerged in the 1990s, such as filmmaker Douglas Gordon and Iain Kettles, the maker of inflatable sculptures. He later spent a year at Cal Arts in Los Angeles studying for his MA, and spent 18 months in Berlin on a fellowship.
These days, Boyce creates large-scale sculptural installations and environments. An assiduous student of modernist forms, he often quotes, and reuses for his signature purposes, the moulded plywood furniture of Charles and Ray Eames, Saul Bass movie poster graphics, or interior designer Ben Kelly’s international hotel interiors of the 1980s. Some pop culture references have filtered through into his work from the music album covers of his youth. His titles are often quirky, like My head is on fire but my heart is full of love and Word enough to save a life word enough to take a life, yet his work has had a dark, pressing melancholy quality. In time, he’s become more interested in utopias, as places we create for ourselves that may be emotional, imaginary, or so physical you can walk through them.
Boyce often constructs his models and maquettes in his studios in Maryhill, Glasgow and then transfers his sculptural installations to sites around the world.
Exhibiting since 1994, Boyce represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2009 with No reflection, filling seven rooms of the 15th-century Palazzo Pisani with outdoor material, fake autumn leaves, polygonal stepping stones, fragmented brass letters, tables and benches, as well as chandeliers replaced by black aluminium. The starting point was the same as for We are shipwrecked and landlocked, his 2008 Kaldor project in Australia: a photograph of concrete trees created by Joël and Jan Martel in 1925.
In the same year he made We are shipwrecked and landlocked, Boyce took part in We burn, we shiver, with another Kaldor artist Ugo Rondinone, at the Sculpture Centre in New York. Boyce placed a half-lit fluorescent fixture on the ceiling made out of the broken geometry of a surgical splint, based on Ray and Charles Eames World War II designs for plywood splints and stretchers for wounded troops. While outdoors, two panels as faint as photographic negatives became an enigmatic notice.
Read more about Martin Boyce’s 2008 Kaldor project.