‘Back of the Maungatua’s’ Auction Catalogue Description

Art + Object Auction 10 August 2017 ‘Back of the Maungatua’s’ Catalogue Description by Hamish Coney. ‘Back of the Maungatua’s’: 2007, small oil (30.5 cm x 66.2cm). Grahame Sydney is a supreme articulator of the specificity of place. So many of his widescreen landscapes are not only topographically accurate but also contains resonances and moods that correspond to the evocative lighting effects and seasonal variations that add up to a unique record of the visual and textural DNA of his chosen landscapes.
Maungatua will be familiar to residents of and visitors to the Taieri plains west of Dunedin. The Maungatua Range rises to nearly 1000 metres over the floodplain of the Taieri River and is a dominant landmark for miles in many directions. It is is a site of significance to iwi, Maungatua meaning Hills of Spirits in Te reo.
Back of the Maungatuas is a classic example of Sydney’s choice of the spaces between many of the South Islands’s most iconic natural features. Locales in and around Mt Pisa, The Hawkdun Ranges, Ida Valley. The Maniototo and Wedderburn amongst others beome iconic landscapes of place and the mind in Sydney’s hands. Big Sky Country. There within the vast vistas, sparesly populated and near desolate country towns and railway junctions Sydney reveals what the poet Brian Turner defines as ‘emotional metaphorical landscape‘. Sydney is an artist who, to a rare degree, allows the viewer to stand in his shoes, his view is our view – and in this simple connection of optics a broader engagement or communion is explicit. Sydney has famously referred to himself as a ‘peasant on a back road’ (interview with Reg Graham 1998). Such a comment is not made for dramatic effect but to convey the everyman universality that his works evoke. This fine canvas dating to 2007 depicts a massive view of the rolling hills as they fade into a long hypnotic Otago chiaroscuro.
Notwithstanding the scale of the landscape it is a painting that rewards careful and intimate inspection. At a distance of a few centimetres the assiduousness of the artist’s craft is revealed. Quite literally every millimetre is considered; passage of bravura painting and telling detail abound, from the foreground depiction of windswept tussock to the brilliantly articulated lavender tonality of the distant hazy shadows.
Many photographs of Sydney depict the artist in his studio surrounded by his tools of trade; thickets of various sized brushes and that tell-tale indicator of the traditional artist-craftsman as employed by painters over hundreds of years, the elongated Mahl Stick.
Such a device may seem an anachronism in the 21st century but the tool clearly indicates long days in the studio, painstaking work and a dedication to mastering the exact skills required to realise his canvases. It is also a statement of artistic independent and a metaphor for Sydney’s artistic world view. “I’m the long stare not the quick glimpse”.
Small Oil. 30.5 cm x 66.2cm. Sold for $66,000.

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