GRAHAME CHARLES SYDNEY ONZM Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to art
OTAGO’S newest, and only, knight to be named in this years’ Queen’s Birthday honours list believes his honour stems from the growing maturity of New Zealanders as a people and as a nation.
Cambrian artist Sir Grahame Sydney said to be an “elderly man at the bottom of the South Island” and be recognised for art was humbling and showed a greater recognition of the pioneers in the arts who had not been recognised in the same manner in the past.
That had changed in recent years.
Echelons of artists in various disciplines had been overlooked, but they had paved the way for a shift in attitude and a confidence in people recognising what being New Zealanders meant.
Seeing that expressed in any artistic medium was something Sir Grahame was happy to be “just a very small part of”, he said.
“They expressed what it means to be us.”
He was riding on their coattails, he said, but his recognition honoured other artists.
“Of course, it’s a shock and a very pleasant surprise.”
The recognition was also cause to reflect.
“It makes you think of what’s given rise to this career, a very unusual career I know, and it’s all down to the support you get.”
In his case, that came from family, friends and associates who made it possible to pursue “this strange hobby I have”, Sir Grahame said.
The “courage” of his supporters was what had sustained an artistic career spanning 50 years.
“They are the brave individuals who write out a cheque, you get that approval and if you don’t get that support, you don’t have a career,” he said.
That five-decade career was across media including oil painting, watercolour, egg tempera, lithographs, etching and photography.
Yet his style had not evolved much in that time, he said.
He had found a formula and stuck to it; it was labelled as “realist” by aficionados, but he said it was augmented.
“I’m a painter with immense limitations and try to make something out of those limitations.
“Realism is the term that’s applied [but] my work lurches away from that truth create an artificial world within the frame.”
Best known for his landscapes of Central Otago, which for many have defined their responses to Central Otago and the South, Sir Grahame said there was an affection for Central Otago and in the New Zealand psyche it held an almost “mythic place”.
His works are represented in New Zealand’s major galleries and private collections here and overseas.
His exhibits have attracted record crowds.
His 1999 “Regions of the Heart” 25-year retrospective toured New Zealand’s public galleries for two years, setting public attendance records. Tens of thousands attended the “Down South Paintings” exhibit at Porirua’s Pataka Art and Museum Gallery in 2011.
His photographs comprise two books, White Silence and Grahame Sydney’s Central Otago.
His works are the subject of several books, including Grahame Sydney Paintings: 1974-2014 and his own publications have included Promised Land: From Dunedin to the Dunstan Goldfields (2009).
He was a driving force behind the creation of the Henderson House artists in residence programme in Alexandra and he is chairman of the Henderson Arts Trust.
Sir Grahame has advocated on various environmental issues, including the successful Save Central campaign, and he was a founding member of the Central Otago Wilding Conifer Control Group.
He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, at New Year 2004.