NZ House & Garden: ‘Landscape’

NZ House and Garden, Prue Dashfield. On a stark Otago hilltop, Grahame Sydney watched in wonderment as a work of art gradually appeared in a space defined by a few pegs and odd lengths of string. The creative process utterly absorbed him – the idea, the outline, the slow, laborious realisation.   Most of us call this sequence of events “construction”. Grahame Sydney calls it “awe-inspiring” and considers the artistry of the architect, builder and tradesmen responsible for his ne house near St Bathans to be every bit the equal of his own – though far less feted and rewarded…

“I love the fact that here, more than anywhere, I am award of two things. The first is that history is apparent… The second is that it’s geographically and geologically raw, a landscape of bare bones rather than comfort, and it makes me very aware of my insignificance. The permanent and immutable elements of the earth’s crust seem to be more obvious and it makes you feel even more transitory. When it’s this big you feel very small and I like that. It’s what fuels my engines in a way because the work that I do is the only way I can guarantee my permanence. The more transitory and fleeting I know my life is, the more award I am of the timelessness of this.”

His work is in defiance of mortality. A slab of Oamaru stone above the fireplace will eventually bear the inscription Ars Longa, Vita Brevis – art is long, life is short.

There was no question that it would be designed by old school friend and Auckland architect Graeme Smith… Graeme Smith designed a village-like cluster of chunky, hefty buildings – house, garage and studio – intended to reflect the earthy solidity of the miners’ construction techniques and withstand the frequent visits of a screaming north-west wind…

Grahame is highly pleased with the geometry of the house, “the way it creates abstractions”. He studies the juxtaposition of a triangular shadow on a wall and the blue sky and brown hills beside and beyond it. “That looks like a combination of an abstract and a realist painting.”