Otago Daily Times: ‘Sydney Wins Status as Poet of Pakeha Inheritance’

Otago Daily Times, Peter Entwisle.   It’s interesting to hear the Auckland Art Gallery is going to take Grahame Sydney’s exhibition “On the Road”, because it is a sign of a growing recognition of the artist’s stature. The trouble is, though, it doesn’t really go far enough.

Auckland could have had the big show staged at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, but didn’t. It has now taken this excellent but more modest review, I think because it still hasn’t quite got Sydney in perspective. The question is, what is so special about Sydney that Auckland – and the rest of New Zealand – ought to sit up and take notice of him?

His subjects are landscape – especially that of Central Otago – portraits and the nude. He works in various paint media, is a draughtsman and a printmaker. He has recently been described, apparently by Linda Tyler, one of the curators of “On the Road”, as a “traditional realist”, which is fair enough as a kind of shorthand, although it tends to obscure as much as it reveals.

The thing that distinguishes Grahame Sydney’s art is that, among our living illusionists, he has most tellingly evoked the backward glance of the Pakeha. His is the rear-vision view of the European New Zealand mind. When Pakehas look back, this is how they see. Nor is his gaze mere sentimental nostalgia. Usually, it is the long, searching, glance of the feeling, inquiring mind. He has made himself the outstanding poet of the Pakeha inheritance.
It is no accident he has made such use of Central Otago. It is this landscape, more than any other in New Zealand, which bears the weathered and abandoned remains of long European occupation. It is here one most vividly sees the enduring, often futile, struggle of man against New Zealand nature.

It is the privilege of only a few artists to produce images of this stature. Grahame Sydney is one of them. Auckland would profit from a more extensive viewing of his work.