The Herald: ‘In the Land of the Southern Man’

The  Herald, Tony Wall.  He’s a Southern man, and he’s southern bred, he’s got the south in his blood, and he’s gonna be here till he’s damn well dead.  He don’t drink Speight’s but.  Grahame Sydney… who has made a name for himself painting Otago’s sprawling vistas, prefers wine from one of the excellent vineyards in his province to the beer that sells itself as the pride of the south.  In many ways the artist is the quintessential Southern Man, with his love of wide open spaces and scepticism about big North Island cities.

But Sydney does not like the Southern Man stereotype, made famous by the Speight’s commercials. “He [Speight’s Southern Man] is thick – the image is dumb. He’s got none of the qualities I admire in a man.”

We visited Sydney – whose book The Art of Grahame Sydney dominated the Montana Book Awards last year – at his Dunedin studio as we headed north on our road trip. He spoke glowingly of life in Otago, where the wine industry has exploded and farming is on the up.

‘There’s something funny going on here at the moment. There’s a real resurgence of provincial pride. It’s to do with a whole lot of things coming right and a feeling that things are better here than elsewhere.’

Sydney feels his heart is anchored firmly in the region, and the Central Otago area is his ‘psychological landscape’. His oil paintings capture the arid severity of Central Otago with an almost photographic meticulousness.

‘It’s huge, spacious and open. It’s the bare bones of a landscape; there’s bugger all skin and no softness. It has an ancient feel to it, like it could be anywhere within the last half million years.”