Biennale of Sydney

Sydney Ball

Sydney Ball. Installation view (2018) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the 21st Biennale of Sydney

Sydney Ball, Black reveal, 1968–69

Sydney Ball, Sketch book, 1967–68

Sydney Ball, Sketch book, 1967–68

Sydney Ball

Born 1933 in Adelaide, Australia
Died 2017 in Sydney, Australia


The late Sydney Ball was a pioneer in the field of painting and the development of abstraction in Australia. An influential and prolific artist, Ball’s extensive oeuvre can be divided into distinct series, some focused on figuration and others dedicated to abstraction. Each stylistic evolution represents a significant shift in direction, yet Ball’s captivation with form, colour and light remains evident throughout his practice.

Initially working as an architectural draughtsman before attending the South Australian School of Art part-time in the late 1950s, Ball travelled to New York in 1963 to study lithography and painting at the Art Students’ League. Under the tutelage of Theodoros Stamos, Ball encountered the Irascibles (otherwise known as the Irascible Eighteen), a group of Abstract Expressionists that included Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. Ball returned to Australia in 1965, a confirmed devotee of colour painting and hard-edge abstraction.


In 1967 Ball began a series of drawings for a new collection of paintings consonant with the tenets of Minimalist art, an abstract movement that developed in America in the 1960s and was characterised by the use of simple geometric shapes. Ball’s ‘Modular’ series, of which Black reveal, 1968–69, is a prime example, explored the sculptural potential of colour and the way negative space could be included as a part of a painting. Producing custom-made canvases that incorporated the use of industrial materials and techniques, Ball’s modular paintings fuse the mediums of sculpture and painting. The individual works often combine angular sections of matte acrylic on canvas with geometric plywood panels that are finished in a reflective enamel gloss. Though the works are most often displayed in a conventional manner, hung on the gallery walls, Ball’s exploratory sketches indicate that some of them were conceived of as floor-based pieces, a further indication of their hybrid nature. At the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Black reveal is exhibited alongside Ball’s ‘Modular sketches’, a series of fourteen preparatory studies on paper. These are accompanied by three of Ball’s sketchbooks; the detailed pages providing further insight into the artist’s captivation with form, colour and light.