2008 SYDNEY BALL - IN LIGHT OF COLOUR 1965-2008
Sydney Ball: colour painter
In 2007 Sydney Ball revisited the direct pictorial architecture of his Canto paintings to develop Structures 2, a series of radiant abstract colour works. The modernist architecture of Mies Van Der Rohe and Zaha Hadid – and their open-ended, problem-solving approach to refined ‘architectonic form’ – provided a framework that resonated with Ball’s artistic practice.
As a young man, Ball worked as an architectural draughtsman before moving to New York in 1963, where he studied painting under Theodore Stamos at the Art Students League. He was able to experience firsthand seminal paintings by Henri Matisse, Hans Hofmann and Kenneth Noland and to meet New York School artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler. In this environment, Ball quickly evolved a spare pictorial language, first realised in the vertical coloured stripes of the Band paintings, shown at Westerly Gallery in his first solo exhibition, in 1964. The Canto series followed (1964–66), with geometric forms used as vehicles for more dramatic, optical, acrylic colour. Their directness and simplicity impressed Stamos, who wrote of their capacity, to ‘enforce a contemplation more exacting than the simplicity of the forms seems to require’. Ball’s subsequent Persian series (1966–68) contained passages of rhythmic colour inspired by Islamic architecture and Persian miniatures, followed by the minimal shaped canvases of his Modular series (1967–69).
In Australia, the Canto paintings were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and Design in Melbourne in 1965 and, in 1969, he was represented in ‘The Field’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, among the first of many important group exhibitions. In 1973 Ball’s abstract expressionist Stain paintings achieved popular and critical success in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. A year later, Patrick McCaughey proclaimed him ‘one of the best and most mature painters to emerge in Australia over the last ten years’.
From 1983 to around 2000, Ball travelled widely and explored figurative painting, during which time he continued to be represented in significant museum exhibitions of colour painting. His return to abstraction with the Structures series consolidated his place within Australian contemporary art.
Sydney Ball is in his seventy-fifth year. In November 2008 he will be honoured with a retrospective exhibition of his abstract colour paintings at Penrith Regional Art Gallery and Lewers Bequest, travelling to McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park, Melbourne (22 February – 26 April 09) and the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide (11 November 09 – 14 February 2010). This prelude exhibition presented by Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art provides a tantalising window on the artist’s sustained and triumphant artistic journey.
Laura Murray Cree
(Laura Murray Cree is a visual arts writer and editor based in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.)
Catalogue note to Sydney Ball Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art and Design, Melbourne, July 1965.
Patrick McCaughey, Art International, October 1974.