He was a man ahead of his time, but now Syd Ball is hailed as one of our greatest painters.
SYD BALL IS testament to the benefits of sticking to your guns. Now hailed as a prophetic genius and one of the greatest South Australian artists, Ball was originally ridiculed when he gave Australian audiences one of their first tastes of hard-edged abstract art in the 1960s.
The 76-year-old is back in his hometown, at the Samstag Museum, with Sydney Ball: The Colour Paintings 1963-2007, which includes the Canto paintings which caused a furore when Ball exhibited them at the Museum of Modern Art Australia, Melbourne, in 1965. Ball’s perfect circles with bands of colour did not impress many locals who preferred their pictures to be more accessible. The uproar surprised Ball, who had just returned from New York, where artists such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell were leading the charge in abstract expressionism. But Antipodean attitudes weren’t about to stop him. “I thought, ‘this is what I do. I’m not going to stop just because people don’t like it’,” he says.
Ball went on to become one of Australia’s most acclaimed artists. His investigations into colour – “it underlies everything I’ve done” – influenced the work of younger artists, especially in SA, where from 1965 to 1969 he taught at the SA School of Art.
The Samstag retrospective, curated by Anne Loxely for Penrith Regional Gallery, starts with the Canto series, painted between 1964 and 1966, moves on to the general abstraction of the Modular and Stain works of 1968 to 1979, and ends with Ball’s return to flat-colour in the Structure series, begun in 2002. Sydney Ball: The Colour Paintings 1963-2007, at the Samstag Museum until January 29.