Martin Boyce works across a range of media including sculpture, installation and photography as well as wall paintings and fictional text. At the core of his work is an exploration of modernist design and specifically how time has affected our understanding of design objects.
Now I’ve got real worry (Mask and L-bar) from 1998–9 is an example of an early work in which Boyce has deconstructed two modernist objects by the iconic American designers, Charles and Ray Eames, making the leg splint into a tribal mask and the L-bar into a spear. In works such as this, Boyce compares the culture in which the objects were originally produced, in this case the optimism surrounding the post-war boom in manufacturing, to their position today as collectable art objects.
Boyce’s interest in modernist design was reinforced when he discovered a photograph of the concrete trees created by the sculptors Joël and Jan Martel for the 1925 Parisian Exhibition of Decorative Arts. This marks the departure point for his recent work. From the Martels’ decidedly cubist-inspired interpretation of nature, Boyce devised his own grid-based vocabulary of geometric shapes that he has since used as a basis for all aspects of his art. He also created his own font of angular letters, which has allowed Boyce to develop his interest in language and narrative.
Installation plays a significant role in Boyce’s art. His distinct awareness of space and its effect on the viewer was honed through his education’s focus on art for the public realm. Recalling familiar public spaces such as playgrounds, pedestrian walkways and abandoned or disused sites, Boyce’s installations often have a ghostly or somewhat disquieting atmosphere. His 2002 installation Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours at Tramway, Glasgow, transformed the gallery space into a darkened urban park, the only light emanating from trees constructed from tubular lamps. Such stage-sets create an imagined world where the past, present and future mix. Boyce merges the natural and the constructed, the populated and the uninhabited, the real and the imaginary, to create a melancholy interpretation of an unnamed landscape.