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~  Grahame Sydney ~
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        Grahame Sydney is an artist based in Central Otago, New Zealand. He is best known for his superlative landscapes, interpreting this area.

       Otago is a southern region on New Zealand's South Island, and includes the coastal city of Dunedin. Central Otago is the inland portion of Tahunanui, Nelson by Doris Lusk (1947)this region. Historically it was the center of a gold rush during the 1860s, and as a result Dunedin became the largest city in New Zealand for two decades. After the gold rush, the area turned to sheep raising and fruit production. The red tussock grass (Chionochloa rubra) that predominates on the Central Otago elevated plateau gives the area its distinctive, unusual reddish color. The semi-arid flatlands, scarred by glacial valleys, combine and contrast with numerous mountain ranges to offer picturesque vistas.

      The varied topology of the South Island has made it a compelling subject for landscape artists over the years. Among the notable painters active in various areas of the South Island (sometimes called  "The Mainland") were Rita Angus and Doris Lusk, particularly in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Both portrayed scenes of Central Otago. Their work often shows some obvious similarities to the Regionalist art painted in the U.S., Canada and Australia during these years, with the strongest influence appearing to come from the work of Grant Wood. The image above is of a painting by Doris Lusk. Click here to visit a gallery of landscape art from New Zealand. 

     The development of a national identity in New Zealand's art dates back to the landscape art of the early 1930s, with Taranaki (1931) by Christopher Perkins often cited as the model for Regionalist Realism. Although many artists in the following decades were influenced by the Abstract movements, the traditions of Realism remained in tact. By the late 1960s, new trends of Realism began to flourish throughout the U.S. and Canada. In New Zealand, a young Grahame Sydney was a student at  the Otago School of Art. He found a great admiration for the paintings of  Vermeer and other Dutch masters of the Golden Age, as well as the earlier art of Albrecht Dürer and Jan van Eyck. After graduation, he moved to England and traveled some in Europe. He soon returned to New Zealand, but during his time in London he was able to learn the tedious techniques of egg tempera painting. These techniques provide an artist with tonal control and an ability to render fine details, both important to landscape painting.

        In the mid 1970s Sydney began an extensive interpretation of the landscapes of Central Otago, its grasslands and mountain ridges. What is remarkable about his paintings is that they are mostly void of the human figure, but at the same time they almost always display the hand of man. Collectively his art represents many semiotic pieces of a large puzzle, always giving clues about the artist's environment and his worldview, but never providing outsiders complete photographic revelations of his terra veritas. His works has been mature from the beginning and always technically superb. The accessibility of the vernacular structures, which are so often present in his paintings, blends with the timeless attributes of the terrain. The remoteness of these vistas provides the viewer with a temporary reprieve from the anxieties stemming from an ever increasing saturation of the media.

         A revival of the tempera techniques occurred in North America between 1930 and 1960. The artists who took up egg tempera in the 1930s included Isabel Bishop, Ben Shahn, Peter Hurd and O.Louis Guglielmi .They were followed by Jared French, Paul Cadmus, Andrew Wyeth and George Tooker in the 1940s, and Robert Vickrey and Alex Colville in the 1950s. Inspired by the work of these artists, Grahame Sydney make a decision to follow their footsteps and to apply egg tempera techniques to landscape painting. In particular his work seems to be informed by Wyeth. Sydney taps into similar themes of indigenous architecture and isolation. Thematic explorations spawn metaphoric imagery, and perhaps nostalgic reflection. Thus the strength of this art lies in a capacity to evoke through hidden meaning or narratives deposited inside of it. This capacity is the heart of Regionalism, a diverse and often stylized type of art, rooted in the Depression era, which lost much of its status with the advent of World War II and the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. Yet in the work of Sydney we see a metamorphosis to an elevated level of Realism, one which transcends its regional bedrock. 

       It might be productive to compare Grahame Sydney's art to that of another earlier type of Realism, that being Precisionism. This may seem an unlikely comparison, given that the main proponent of Precisionism, Charles Sheeler, was known for his preoccupation and veneration of the culture of Industrialism. However, other artists often associated with this movement clearly rejected these aspects in favor of a more rural outlook. And even within Sheeler's oeuvre there is a dualism of subject material, and a significant rural component.  We should call this aspect Rural Precisionism. Within this earlier art one can see the early seeds of the branch of Realism that bore fruit in the 1970's, a type of art that can be referred to as High Realism.

         We invite you to visit the Grahame Sydney Gallery at Monograffi Fine Art Galleries. We hope that you will enjoy the work of a modern master.

Grahame Sydney's Gallery

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