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Sydney Ball: supreme colourist

Sydney Ball (Australian, 1933-2017)

Ball was a leading Australian abstractionist who worked across hard-edge and geometric abstraction through to abstract expressionism. He was always preoccupied with the formal qualities of colour, and this is why I love his work so much: I immensely admire his use of colour and the way Ball created rhythm and movement in deceptively simple compositions in his paintings and original prints (especially in his geometric and hard edge styles in particular).

I’ve handpicked a couple of examples which resonate with me:

Isfahan (1967), screen print on paper, (Art Gallery of NSW). The interplay between negative and positive space is strong in this work, as is symmetry and balance. There is a quiet energy to this work, and the use of two tones of yellow creates a central inward pull of focus.  Isfahan is one of Ball’s Persian series of prints, there is a mystical quality to these works which I really respond to.

Isfahan (1967), screen print on paper, 45.8 x 91.2 cm. Image source: Art Gallery of NSW

One of Ball’s later works I would love to see in person is Chromix Lumina, (2017-18), as I would hazard a guess that the sense of space would be continually contracting and vibrating due to the interplay of colour relationships.

It is very clever, and again a deceptively simple composition which is alive with energy through the use of colour. The colours are more contemporary in contrast to Ball’s earlier works of the 1960s, a reflection perhaps of the advances in paint technology.

Suitcase #1: Sydney Ball. A discussion of Ball's beautiful formal compositions.
Chromix Lumina, (2017-18), (automotive enamel on aluminium, 240 x 260 x 5 cms. Image source: Sullivan + Strumpf

I aspire to create works such as these: spare, technically beautifully in their execution, energetic and joyful. Meditative. An essay in formalism.

Thank you Sydney Ball, one of the giants of Australian Modernism.

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Know what is in your suitcase

I consider myself to be fairly art literate, especially in the domains of Modernism, Australian art and contemporary art. This is an essential part of my job as an art teacher: I need to be able to pass on my knowledge of art movements, styles and particular artists to students. But why should it matter in my art practice? Why is it important to interrogate my guiding lights – my inspiration?

I believe this is important for a variety of reasons:

  1. Nothing is new in art*. This was drummed into us at art school (hey, I’m a product of post modernism!), and nowhere is this truer than in painting, especially as painting is meant to be DEAD (which I don’t believe for one second!). [*Which really means there is nothing new in terms of style and technique in the traditional art mediums of painting, drawing, collage, sculpture etc. Digital media draws on these traditions of course. The growth of new technologies will create new ways of working (technique and style) over the coming years I am certain.]

But why does this matter?

  • As artists, we need to be able to articulate why we do what we do. Why we are interested in dogs and horses as subject matter, or why we completely eschew subject altogether in favour of completely non-objective painting or sculpture. Our use of art techniques, art elements and media is intimately linked to our values, our interests, our sense of the world, and our place in the world. 

Essentially, it reflects who we are, and ultimately, and that is only what can really be said to be ‘NEW’ in art: the subjective, individual voice particular to the specific cultural framework it is located within. (Contemporary art, by definition is always ‘new’ for this very reason). A voice that hopefully, resonates with others, pointing to some kind of shared experience expressed through the visual.

  • Plus, it is so much fun to delve into the massive, overflowing suitcase of influences we hold as artists, from the irreverent to the serious. In my case, it is a bag seriously overflowing with colour, play, joy and human pathos. I look forward to opening up this suitcase and dusting off its contents for you over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
What Pandora Box awaits you when you delve into your ‘suitcase’?