ARTIST Mark Boyle, who died suddenly, but peacefully, at the age of 71 at his home in Greenwich, London, on Wednesday, was an artistic pioneer in every sense of word.

With Joan Hills, his partner since 1957, he took part in Britain's first "happening, " which scandalised Edinburgh in 1963, developed early light shows for rock groups like Soft Machine, toured America with Jimi Hendrix and, in his lifelong project, worked with Hills and their children, Sebastian and Georgia, on events, assemblages and their extraordinary "earth pieces" - lifelike facsimiles of the surface of the Earth.

Their locations, which included everywhere from the Norwegian Arctic Circle to the Israeli desert, were chosen from a map by random methods like the throwing of darts, and their artwork was created using techniques that were a fiercely-guarded secret.

Boyle Family - they worked together exclusively from 1971 and coined the term in 1985 to acknowledge that their art was indeed a family affair - are now recognised as among the most significant artists of their generation. Exhibiting in prestigious venues from Seattle to Sydney, they are the only Scottish artists to have filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Their 1986 Hayward Retrospective, also seen at Kelvingrove in Glasgow, had 176,000 visitors. Their 2003 show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art consolidated their history while also introducing them to a new generation.

Boyle was born in Glasgow in 1934, one of seven children, and attended St Aloysius College.

He later said that the cultural richness and visual embellishment of his Catholic heritage influenced him heavily as an artist, but may have contributed to his lifelong aversion to doctrines and movements in the arts.

He was a paradox: an individualist who worked everyday in close collaboration with friends and family, an artist with no training who worked at the top of the international field, a figure at the heart of the counter-culture who never took drugs. In later life, the only stimulants he tolerated were "salt and sugar". His art was based on perception and what he called "motiveless appraisal" - an examination of the world around him, be it the surface of the Earth, or his own hair under the microscope for its intrinsic beauty.

Boyle had been destined to become a Glasgow lawyer, but instead became a tenacious and charismatic advocate of the artistic life. He later recalled that, as intellectual training, his father would read him the leaders of The Glasgow Herald and he would then be expected to provide the counter argument. After a year at Glasgow University he left to join the Army in 1953 and began to write poems.

Meeting the Edinburgh-born Hills and her young son, Cameron, in a Harrogate coffee shop in 1957, Boyle turned from pursuing poetry to art. It was, from the first, a joint endeavour. The pair embraced penniless bohemia for a few months in Paris and subsequently in London. Their son, Sebastian, was born in March 1962, their daughter, Georgia, in October 1963.

Boyle was incredible fun to be with, widely and idiosyncratically self-educated, passionate, argumentative. He had an unerring eye for detail, but was best characterised by his energy. In a family vehicle where, inevitably, working together caused the occasional tension, he served as the throttle to Joan Hills's subtle steering wheel.

Boyle Family rarely work with established dealers, but have shown at the great museums and have a passionate group of collectors who, like many who encountered the Boyles, regard themselves as friends. It was decades before they reached any financial stability, but they moved over that time towards world-wide recognition, and their milieu now reads like a Who's Who of artistic, musical and social pioneers.

In 1997, Boyle and Hills designed their Greenwich home, named Christmas House, named on the typically-optimistic premise that it would encourage their builder to finish it by December. The house was, like its occupants, a charming combination of simple austerity and rare visual pleasure. It was here while working on his autobiography, that Mark Boyle died.

In interviews, Boyle Family have often talked of the inevitability of change and the desire to keep working under the collective name, even after the death of a member of the family. Mark Boyle's death comes as the early light shows are the subject of renewed interest. Footage of the projections will be shown at Tate Liverpool and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, this summer.

Only last week, Tate Magazine published a tribute to Mark Boyle by his close friend, the musician Robert Wyatt. "If you look at his work, he is looking for the truth and for what really happens, " Wyatt wrote. "In that sense he is an old-fashioned artist and a great man."

Mark Boyle, artist; born 1934, died May 4, 2005.