Otago Daily Times: ‘Art Needs Arrogance’

Otago Daily Times, Debbie Jamieson. A ferocious arrogance was one of the key attributes an artist should have, Otago painter Grahame Sydney told about 300 photographers in Queenstown yesterday. In fact, Sydney should have a sign on his own studio door reading, “Impregnable Ego At Work. Don’t Disturb”, he said.

Art, whether it was a painting or a photograph, could only be good if it contained the artist’s own unique and unmistakable autograph and he loathed imitators. What should be apparent was “the importance of valuing what life has done to you, and what your personality is, and what your chemistry is, and what your experiences have been and how those experiences have affected your signature”, he said. Sydney was always fascinated by painting and although the reason why remained a mystery, it was a part of him.

Central Otago and Dunedin were also a part of him and he would only go the North Island (which he said he loathed) to visit friends from Dunedin. “Whenever I’m away I feel worse and whenever I come back and look over the Waitaki I feel better and I can’t explain that – that’s just me.” Although he felt slightly troubled to say it, he told the audience he could not stand Queenstown.

However, he once owned a 10-acre block of land at Dalefield, which he bought with borrowed money for $20,000 in the 1970s, before anyone had built a house there. “With the perfect economic vision which has plagued my life, I sold it three years later for $23,000 and thought I’d done rather well. “I gather I couldn’t buy it now for half a million,” he said.

But the Queenstown landscape was “just not me”, unlike the “big, open, desolate, empty” landscapes of Central Otago. “It has taken me a great deal of time to accept the fact that this is who I am. In fact, it’s rather fascinating being me.” It was to his “horror” a student had begun a PhD on him and was investigating the Freudian aspects of his imagery, including why things were often hanging limply in his paintings. “Buggered if I know,” he said. “The reasons the paintings are like this is because I’m like this.”