Sydney Exhibition Review: Something Old, Something New

Review by Joanne Campbell, Otago Daily Times.  The Marshall Seifert Gallery is hosting an exhibition by pre-eminent realist Grahame Sydney. The exhibition consists of paintings and prints spanning nearly 30 years.

The earliest work, Still Life; Doll, 1977, is quite different in character from his later work. The etching is executed with his customary attention to detail but the result is eerie and unsettling, largely due to the choice of subject. The doll form closely resembles a baby and its rigidity is therefore disturbing.

Standing Model, 1987 is one of Sydney ’s characteristic female nudes. The figure’s face is hidden by the T-shirt she is pulling up over her head. This anonymity allows Sydney to depict a universal rather than a particular individual. Dee Study, 2004 is in some ways a much more revealing work despite the fact that her modesty is preserved by the use of careful drapery. Sydney subtly conveys the sensuality of his subjects while distancing them from the prying eyes of the viewer.

The three paintings that feature in the exhibition reveal his affinity with the landscape. In Port Mark, 1993, the central triangular sign that dominates the work invites the viewer to peer around at the landscape beyond. The composition is beautifully balanced. Wilson Boys’ Boat, 1984 depicts a boat on a trailer on the beach. The strong vertical and horizontal elements in the trailer provide a contrast with the elegant curvature of the boat’s hull.

The exhibition also offers the opportunity to see a new work. The vast majority of Grahame Sydney ’s paintings move directly from the easel into a collection which means the general public has little opportunity to see his work. Night Store, 2005 was completed just last week.

Anyone who has driven from Dunedin to Christchurch will have seen the subject first-hand. The store at Herbert appears out of the blackness. The architectural form is lit from the left. As a result, the detail we have come to expect from Sydney is evident on that side, while on the right the building seems to fade into the night.

Sydney seems to have an innate sense of symmetry and harmony that infuses all of the works.