Sunday Star Times: ‘On the Road’

Sunday Star Times, Helen Watson White. Finding time to paint has become Grahame Sydney’s greatest challenge.

When I first tried to reach him, his cellphone was off while he addressed a conference of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers. The previous weekend Sydney was opening a show by realist painter Simon Richardson at Dunedin’s Marshall Seifert gallery and before that he was in Auckland to receive three prizes for The Art of Grahame Sydney at the Montana Book Awards.

Does he ever, I asked, get time to paint anymore? ‘It’s a problem,’ says Sydney, referring both to the rampant publicity and the displacement of what mission-statement writers call the ‘primary business’ which brought him that fame.

‘Painters have to paint,’ he says. ‘It’s as simple as that. I don’t enjoy being in the limelight – it doesn’t suit me.’

This show, importantly, removes Sydney’s product from the commercial circus; none of the 35 paintings, many of which feature in his award-winning book, are for sale. Other qualities are given a chance to speak, affirming that he has more going for him than his saleability… The localness of the images, however, is not really the issue. While Mt Pisa, Kokonga, Weddeburn and Gimmerburn might be names to conjure images with Otago lovers, the wooden shed-colour in the Hocken’s Railway Red is standard in both hemispheres.

For that matter the blood – or rusted-red colour – combined with grass-gold and a lavender-blue sky, recall, to any who have met them, the hues of Italian altar-pieces painted 600 years ago by Sydney’s exemplars.”