Name: Greg Boyd
Occupation: Neo-Paleolithic Artist
Hometown: Wherever I happen to be is home
Cave men and women would likely be proud of your unique work that is reminiscent of their ancient art form. How did you come to adopt this “Paleolithic” style of art?
Without being too pedantic, let me say first that the term “cavemen” really isn’t accurate. Though our Ice Age ancestors used caves for ceremonial purposes and certainly decorated and painted many caves in western Europe, there’s no evidence whatsoever that they ever lived in them. After all, caves are dark and dangerous places and even 30,000 years ago our homo sapiens ancestors preferred to live in well lit and easily protected cliff dwellings made from rock overhangs.
As for how or why I became interested in Ice Age art and began using it as a point of departure for my own work, all I can say is that the idea came to me suddenly and fully formed. One day I woke up and just started doing it.
You’re giving new life to not only some extinct animals, but also a form of art work that mostly died after the Ice Age. With this in mind, what kind of reactions does your art receive?
The people of the Ice Age produced art almost exclusively about animals over a period lasting at least 20,000 years. Some of the species they drew, carved and painted, such as horses, bison, reindeer and cattle, have survived to this day, while others such as the cave lion, woolly mammoth, and woolly rhino have become extinct.
Around the time early modern humans began to move from a hunter-gatherer society to an agriculturally based society, we stopped decorating caves and depicting animals in our art. But we’ve got a really long, racial memory of the importance of those animals because for the greatest part of the history of our species, we depended on our intimate knowledge of them to keep us alive. Ice Age bears, lions, bulls and even some types of deer were twice the size of similar creatures today. Herds of bison and reindeer were enormous. It was a time of sprawling animal populations and relatively few humans.
With that background in mind, it’s not surprising that most people today respond very positively to my art. The paintings invoke a deep, primal and unconscious connection, the same kind of attraction many people have for sitting next to a fire with their dog at their feet.
You use a variety of mediums, including drawings, pottery and paintings to express your artistic style. Do you gravitate to one more than the others?
Years ago, I began as a print-maker, mainly working in black and white. Over the years, I’ve become more interested in color, texture and sculptural aspects of art, particularly in painting. At this point I’m very attracted to combining techniques and approaches. For example, one of my most recent paintings also includes images engraved into the surface.
Tell us how you blend some of your materials to make them both modern and prehistoric.
Since I’m not in any way trying to reproduce the original paintings one would see at Lascaux or Chauvet Cave, for example, but rather to use the originals as the theme of original and fully contemporary work, I try to combine ancient materials like iron oxide and ochre, with various minerals such as mica, limestone, pumice and sand. I also use mediums such as modeling paste to build texture and help create the illusion of rocky, uneven surfaces.
Normally I use polymer-based acrylic paints, though my large scale paintings are all done in oils. While the subjects of my paintings come from the Ice Age, I work from a modern tradition, with contemporary materials and techniques. While I’m more likely to use a brush than my fingers or hands, I’ve been known to use both.
Most of your work is very colorful and full of life, showing off lots of “primitive” animals like lions, bears, bison, woolly mammoths and the like. Tell us about your contemporary approach to these Ice Age animals.
I’m an artist who lives in a post-industrial, technologically advanced age. There’s no doubt that I am a product of my society, which shapes my views, provides my tools and gives my work a unique perspective. Unlike our distant ancestors, whose painting technology limited artists to various ochre earth tones, along with shades of gray and white, I have access to the entire spectrum of color.
I’ve done a series of paintings based on the white line engravings scratched onto the rock walls of caves in France and Spain. While my paintings reference the lines and shapes from these engravings, they also explode with color that are part of a very modern palette. So technology certainly influences my artistic choices.
More important, I think, is how my modern outlook influences how I approach these subjects. For example, the Ice Age animals I paint can be whimsical or even ironic, qualities that simply don’t exist in the detailed and beautifully rendered original cave art.
How did you end up in downtown Lynchburg, at Riverviews Artspace?
Several years ago, my wife and I decided to sell everything we owned and move from California to Virginia with only what would fit in the back of our car. Poking around the downtown area, I discovered Riverviews our first day in Lynchburg. When the residential lofts came on the market a few years later we bought one in which to live and work.
You’re preparing for a trip to Ecuador. Are you hoping to draw artistic inspiration there?
I love to travel and expand my awareness of other cultures and artists. I’m very interested in folk art of all kinds, especially art that draws from the most ancient and primal traditions like the aboriginal art of Australia or the African bushmen, and the folk art of the Amazon and Andes. Ecuador has a large and diverse indigenous population and a shamanistic tradition that survives to this day. There’s much to learn in a place like that.
What’s your favorite aspect about your work as a Paleolithic artist?
I really like being connected to the mysteries inherent in these ancient cave paintings. We may know how and where our ancestors created their art, but lacking written records we cannot know for certain why they painted animals for 20,000 years or what this art meant to them. Part of my job is to interpret this work on a very personal level and put what I think and feel into my paintings. It’s a good feeling to be part of such a long and illustrious tradition.
What inspires you about living in Central Virginia?
I love the colors I see in the local landscape, the sky, the mountains, the trees. I also appreciate the historical sites and architecture. Finally, the homo sapiens around here are friendly and well mannered, which makes Central Virginia a great place to live.
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