Sydney Ball: 1963-1973 Works from the Estate

One of Australia’s leading exponents of colour painting, Sydney Ball (29 October 1933 – 5 March 2017) continued, throughout his long career, to push the boundaries of his artistic practice. In investigating over and again the possibilities of colour and form he produced a prodigious body of work comprising nineteen series, each distinctly progressive and unique, for which he came to be recognised as the “prophet” of Australian abstraction.

Ball arrived on the Australian art scene with a bang in the mid 1960s with a series of geometric works, the Cantos, produced during the first of his residencies in New York City. In the words of art critic Patrick McCaughey, “They were bold and memorable and took Australian painting in a new direction”. Over the following decades Ball would win a slew of awards and have a tumultuous and indelible effect on the local art world, particularly inspiring the next generation of Australian artists. In his 1995 book, A Quiet Revolution: The Rise of Australian Art 1946-1968, art historian Christopher Heathcote, described Ball as “the artist who managed to swing the momentum of the entire [Australian] art scene”.

Originally from Adelaide, Ball was one of a small vanguard of Australian artists who lived, studied and worked in New York in the 1960s and 70s, exulting in the fresh ideas, energy and momentum of the new epicentre of the art world. In 1963 he commenced full-time study at New York’s Art Students League, where he was taken under the wing of abstract expressionist Theodoros Stamos. During this most formative period, Stamos introduced Ball to such New York based luminaries as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and other members of The Irascible Eighteen, gaining him access to their exhibitions and studios and shepherding him into their social scene. The first to critique Ball’s work and challenge his ideas, Stamos would become an instrumental mentor, demonstrating a new field of potential sufficient to fuel a career spanning more than 50 years.

In Sydney Ball: 1963-1973 Works from the Estate, opening July 30 at Sullivan+Strumpf Sydney, the viewer is invited into this particularly important and vibrant period in Ball’s career, during which Ball regularly traversed between the US and Australia. Staged across both floors of the Sydney gallery, the show will bring to light rare and significant works from across the two decades, including several pieces which have never previously been exhibited.

A selection of rare vertical stripe paintings from Ball’s Band series, created late 1963, are evidence of Ball’s relationship with Stamos, who famously turned one of Ball’s paintings on its side during one of his early classes at the Art Students League of New York, transforming what had been conceived as a formal landscape into an abstracted work, and inspiring Ball to see a total change in what a painting could be.

Never previously seen in Australia, Ball’s 1964 painting Blue Vertical, previously held in the Aldrich Museum collection, Connecticut, USA, is one of the earliest pieces from the artist’s Canto series, 1964–1966, and particularly significant as Ball’s first museum sale.

The majestic, Khasma, 1967, is one of only three sculptures produced as part of Ball’s Persian series, 1966–67, from which three paintings were selected for the National Gallery of Victoria’s groundbreaking exhibition, The Field. The inaugural show at the NGV’s new St Kilda Road premises, which opened in 1968, The Field celebrated a new generation of artists. Ball was also invited to design The Field exhibition poster.

Exhibited for the first time in almost fifty years, works produced in New York in 1971 from Ball’s rare Link series provide a crucial connection between the crisp architectonic forms of Ball’s Modulars and the painterliness of the Stain series (1971– 81) that preoccupied him for the next decade.

Described by Patrick McCaughey as “one of the triumphs of Australian art in the 1970s”, imbued with “an expressive freedom, a sense of release that stood on end the tight-fisted manners of the sixties”, several of Ball’s early Stains are certain to be highlights of the show.

Sydney Ball Sydney Ball: 1963-1973 Works from the Estate launches Thursday July 30 at Sullivan+Strumpf Sydney, 799 Elizabeth Street, Zetland. Or view online at

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