Carl Sydow

Drawing 5: VI

1975
Letraline on paper
760mm x 605mm

signed Carl Sydow and dated 1975 in ink lower right

Note: Memorial Exhibition catalogue number 20.
Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.

Literature

Carl Sydow, Carl Sydow (1940-75) Memorial Exhibition (Christchurch: Robert Mcdougall Art Gallery, 1979), 22.

Essay

The Christchurch artist Carl Sydow was only 35 when he passed away, shortly after Christmas in 1975. It was sudden and unexpected, a mere two months after an important exhibitio...

Read full text
Estimate $1,200 - $1,800
Achieved $3,603.75

Carl Sydow

Drawing 5: IV

1975

Letraline on paper

signed Carl Sydow and dated 1975 in ink lower right

760mm x 605mm


Note: Memorial Exhibition catalogue number 19.

Auction N˚6

Estimate $1,200 - $1,800

Achieved $3,603.75

Logic and Symmetry

by Andrew Paul Wood

The Christchurch artist Carl Sydow was only 35 when he passed away, shortly after Christmas in 1975. It was sudden and unexpected, a mere two months after an important exhibition of his drawings, Works on Paper at the Brooke-Gifford Gallery. This passing cut short the career of a man rapidly on his way to becoming one of the most interesting artists in New Zealand, and yet (perhaps due to the New Zealand art establishment’s usual disregard for the provinces and his relatively brief period of activity) Sydow remains one of our least known modernist pioneers.

Sydow studied at the Canterbury University School of Fine Arts from 1959 to 1961, and completed an honours degree at the Elam School of Fine Art at Auckland University in 1963. His work was first publicly exhibited in Painters and Sculptors of Promise, an exhibition held by the Auckland Society of Arts in the same year. Subsequently, Sydow was awarded a QEII Arts Council grant to travel to London on the requisite OE, where from 1964 to 1968 he worked (although he was not enrolled as a student) in the studios of the Royal College of Art.

London was at the height of the “Swinging Sixties,” and British contemporary art and design were enjoying one of their intermittent vogues on the global stage. The most interesting thing happening in London’s energised art scene was the New Generation: a group of Sir Anthony Caro’s students at St Martin’s School of Art, in Granary Square in the heart of King’s Cross. It was a sparkling pool of talent that included Phillip King, David Annesley, Michael Bolus, Tim Scott, William Tucker and Isaac Witkin. It was a milieu full of energy, optimism and hope.

From the Royal College, all the way over by Hyde Park, Sydow—a  small-town boy from Takapau in central Hawke’s Bay, born in 1940 and schooled in Palmerston North—saw how the New Generation had digested Caro’s formal stylistic language, derived from industrial boilers and steel I-beams, and mixed it with the lessons of Pop and Minimalism by adding bright, colourful paintjobs and incorporating materials like commercial PVC tubing, Perspex, mirror glass and fibreglass.

Of this experience, Sydow would later write, “I was rather astounded and impressed by a lot of the work being done there: particularly that of Roland Piche and Derrick Woodham, both of whom, along with some students of Anthony Cara at St. Martins, were included in a group exhibition called the New Generation held at the Whitechapel in early 1965. . . . It all constituted a great upheaval in sculpture at the time and left me in a great state of confusion.” This “confusion” led Sydow to destroy his older work—imitations of then-fashionable English sculptors Kenneth Armitage and Lynn Chadwick in plaster, terracotta and ciment fondu—and pursue sculptural constructivism.