The advent of World War II was a frightening prospect for most Australians. Along with many of his associates Arthur Boyd was conscripted into the armed forces and from 1941 he served his time in the Cartographic Unit, based in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
There was a background of military service in his family, but also a history of conscientious objection. As a pacifist he struggled with military life and acutely felt the separation from his family and friends, and the interruption to his artistic endeavours. The war reinforced his concerns about many of the phantoms of the 20th century: violence, racism, alienation and isolation.
His expressionistic wartime paintings, with their images of the disabled and those deemed unfit for war service, were painful images of the dispossessed and the outcast. Throughout his working life Arthur Boyd continued to be concerned with the impact of war and created many bodies of work reflecting this theme.
Boyd’s work transformed the harsh reality of urban and bush Australia into a place inhabited by characters and events drawn from mythology, the Bible and fairytales. However Boyd employed this landscape and these characters to examine universal themes of love, vanity, racism, poverty and war. Series such as Nebuchadnezzar; Mars; Spare the Face, Gentlemen, Please and Lysistrata were produced over many decades, often employing allegorical subjects to explore these themes in contemporary life.