Sydney Ball adds a splash of colour to the Art Gallery of NSW

Earlier this month the Art Gallery of New South Wales announced their acquisition of the major work by Sydney Ball, Great Falls 1975-76.  At almost 6m wide, Great Falls is the largest painting by Ball and a noteworthy addition to the Gallery’s collection of Ball’s works.


Unseen by the public for over 30 years, the work had been stored after its first showing in 1977 at St John’s Cathedral.  The work’s unearthing for Sullivan+Strumpf’s retrospective exhibition Sydney Ball: The Stain Paintings in November last year coincided with Ball’s 80 birthday.  Accordingly, the AGNSW’s acquisition is well-timed recognition and a nod to his impressive career and contribution to Australian art.

Apart of the Stain painting series from 1971-1980 (which resulted in around 100 paintings), Great Falls is characterised by its painterly abstraction in Ball’s exploration of colour.  By working on the floor, accessing all sides of canvas, the canvas is layered with splashes and splatters of colour that enabled a free openness and luminous expression.

An epic explosion of colour, Great Falls is overwhelming in its sense of an unleashing of colour forms, however despite its fluid freedom Ball’s technique is one that is tried and mastered.

What distinguishes Ball’s Stain series is the effect of assonance and dissonance.  As a colourist Ball experimented with a range of complementary rich shades, dark tones and light uplifting notes of colour.  The interplay between considered tones and unexpected splashes of colour resulted in vivacious works that evoke an emotional response.

Reflecting on the series in 2013, Patrick McCaughey, who had visited Ball in New York, makes the observation; ‘Each painting is a fresh encounter as if Ball set out never to repeat himself… The Stain paintings are one of the triumphs of Australian art in the 1970s… How good it is to see them again and what miracles of vitality and enterprise they are.’


Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Rd, The Domain

Image 1 : Sydney Bell,  Great Falls, 1975-76, synthetic polymer paint and enamel on cotton duck, 273 x 585cm
Image 2: Sydney Ball in front of Great Falls
Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

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