Sir Grahame Sydney
For background on the artist and works, see below.
About the Artist
Over 30 years of exhibiting, Sir Grahame Sydney has become celebrated as the definitive painter of Central Otago: its vast hinterland spaces, endless skies and folded mountains, dwarfing human occupation and existence. There is a surreal quality, an ineffable tension, to these dramatic paintings which have made his body of work iconic. Now, he’s moved on. Not from Central Otago, where he still lives and works, but in subject and artistic quest. His visits to Antarctica in 2003 and 2006 resulted in a series of acclaimed limited edition photographs, presented on a dramatic scale. The minimalism, infinitely subtle shifts of tone, and hard-to-define dimension which seduced him on the ice have now infused his exploration of familiar territory back in Central Otago. “I’m a fog man now,” he says… The artist is fascinated with the minimalism and concealment of landscape glimpsed through fog. The familiar heartland still exists, but is not visible, and landscape features hover on the point of disappearing again. His paintings and lithographs capture that tension, and the detail seems to emerge as the eye adjusts to the subtleties of tone on tone. This is ethereal, a glimpse of a familiar place as if breathed onto canvas or paper. Viewed side by side, the connection between the Antarctic photographs and the fog paintings becomes clear. Already some commentators are viewing the minimalist fog works as amongst his best; they are demanding and exacting for the painter and equally compelling for the viewer drawn into the work. His paintings are only rarely exhibited for sale, with a waiting list for his work. The lithographs he produces periodically are equally sought after, but remain affordable and very collectible.
Photographs: Sir Grahame Sydney turns his lens once again to Central Otago in his latest series of limited edition photographs; capturing the essence of what anchors him to this region in images of the last light on the landscape, of areas whose sustainability is under threat, as well as the very minimalist images for which he has recently become known. The latter border on monochromatic, but there is a hint of earthiness in tone much the way his ‘fog’ paintings and lithographs use barely discernible colour to create the illusion of black and white. The photographs are available in large format in collectible limited editions of 10, signed, entitled and dated; or as smaller, non-editioned images, printed on archival paper. The minimalist Central Otago photographs largely evolved out of Grahame Sydney’s Antarctic photographs which pursued a point at which a shift in tone or light is last discernible, often at dawn or dusk. This is the southern continent viewed very much through the eyes of a meticulous painter. Sydney didn’t set out to test the technical limits of the camera, but the limits of the light and creativity. “It is my hope that when people study these rather minimal images they still find the unmistakable ‘Sydney’ manner and style.” Where most invited artists went to Antarctica in the summer, Grahame Sydney chose to go in October when the light was extremely subtle, but found conditions were prohibitive for an artist who always began with drawings and studies en plein air (outdoors). Oil paint became like cement, watercolours froze and crackled, paper became brittle, and even pencil drawing was impossible because frostbite threatened within a minute. He turned to the camera and discovered a new world of possibility, ultimately finding it could be ‘a legitimate art medium for me’. His work is held in national collections including Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand) and in international private collections including Elton John, Nelson Mandela and Sam Neill.
Lithographs: Grahame Sydney’s stone lithographs are all produced using archival materials. Mai-Mai, Kane’s Pond appears almost monotone at first but in fact involves five separate colour printings from the stone. The intense Night Station, based on an image from the Cook Islands, uses two colours to accentuate the eeriness and unease of being alone at night; he also uses an undertone the colour of the lithographic stone, to enhance the subtlety in some of his life studies and self portrait.
More About the Artist
Grahame Sydney was born in Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand in 1948. He graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1969 and began his full time art career in 1974 after a period of teaching and overseas travel. He was Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago in 1978, and exhibited widely throughout New Zealand, also in Sydney and London, since 1969. A major retrospective of his work, On The Road, toured New Zealand public art galleries from 2000-2002. Until Antarctica, his focus has been almost exclusively on Central Otago and southern New Zealand and his intimate knowledge underscores the power of his paintings. He is currently the champion of the Save Central campaign to prevent large scale wind farms from dominating the landscape. He remains best known for his finely realist and iconic paintings, and as art critic Keith Stewart says: “you don’t just see the land here, you feel it”. Grahame Sydney is also well known for strikingly beautiful printmaking, particularly figure studies, and has worked in egg tempera, watercolours, oils, lithography and etchings. Now, his photographic images of Antarctica, sometimes surreal, sometimes almost storytelling, demand a further review of preconceptions about the breadth of his art. He was awarded the ONZM (Officer of the Order of New Zealand Merit) in 2003 for his huge contribution to New Zealand painting. Major publications on his work, including The Art of Grahame Sydney and Timeless Land, have won prominent book awards.
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