Midwinter at Miss Nyhon’s
1974, 510 x 760mm, Egg tempera on gesso on board
Grahame Charles Sydney was born in Ōtepoti into a family that travelled between the green soft coastal landscape of Karitane on the Otago coast and the raw extremes in winter and summer of the ‘vast empty and silent landscapes’ around Arrowtown. As a teenager, he grappled with watercolours under the tutelage of H. V. Miller, whose Saturday morning art classes he attended. After studying at Otago University and Christchurch Teachers’ College, he taught at Cromwell District High School and worked towards his first solo exhibition at the Moray Gallery, Ōtepoti, in 1972. In 1973, he left Aotearoa but so missed the clarity of the Otago sky that he returned 18 months later convinced that it was only there that he could ever paint.
In 1974, with the help of his parents, he set up as a painter living in a small cottage in Naseby. His full-time career began with images of the Maniototo and continued with paintings made of the Mackenzie Basin or the Canterbury Plains. Sydney’s Otago and Murihiku Southland landscapes are wholly dedicated to the meticulous recording of the detail of a subject. His works often resemble those of the American photo-realist painters of the 1960s, who took colour slides, projected them on to prepared surfaces, then painted the images. The effect was a heightened realism that took viewers by surprise. Such paintings were widely praised by people who disliked abstract or expressionist art, preferring their art to ‘look like life’. So it is with Sydney.