The Listener: ‘Living for the City’

The Listener, Bruce Ansley. But where do they (Aucklanders) live in their hearts, assuming for the moment that they have them? Somewhere else, in the Auckland Art Gallery’s experience. Hordes of them have been rediscovering themselves before Grahame Sydney’s intense landscapes at the gallery. “This exhibition is so hugely popular, hugely, hugely,” swoons one of the gallery staff. Which is curious because Sydney paints Otago, especially Central Otago, and his is an empty landscape without people.

“Maybe they believe that’s what the heartland is,” says gallery director Chris Saines. “They know it in their hearts if not through actual experience.” Saines notices a different kind of art lover dreaming before Sydney’s paintings. “They are striking a chord with ordinary New Zealanders as opposed to the highly educated audience which is interested in art.” Sydney has scored beyond the cool. But his heartland only looks barren. In a note on the gallery wall, Brian Turner, southern poet, observes that Sydney’s work is more about people staying than people leaving. Perhaps that is what appeals.