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, from the ‘Modular’ series, synthetic polymer paint on canvas and enamel on gilder plywood, 157 x 289.3 x 4.4 cm. Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Gift of the artist 2014. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney. Copyright © Sydney Ball. Photograph: Christopher Snee, AGNSW

Sydney Ball, Sketch book, 1967–68. Courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore and the Sydney Ball Estate

Sydney Ball, Sketch book, 1967–68. Courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore and the Sydney Ball Estate

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.

Exhibited Artwork

Sydney Ball 

Left to right: 

Sketchbook, 1963–65, mixed media, 27 x 25 cm (closed), 54 x 25 cm (open)
Sketchbook, 1965–69, mixed media, 45 x 31 cm (closed), 90 x 31 cm (open)
Sketchbook, 1970–90s, mixed media, 35 x 27 cm (closed), 35 x 54 cm (open) 
Installation view of the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore and the Sydney Ball Estate 

Photograph: silversalt photography

Location: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sydney Ball, Black reveal, 1968–69, synthetic polymer paint on canvas and enamel on gilder plywood 157 x 289.3 x 4.4 cm. Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Gift of the artist 2014. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. Installation view of the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore and the Sydney Ball Estate 

Photograph: silversalt photography

Location: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sydney Ball 

Top row from left: 

Modular sketch (Study for ‘Black reveal’ 2), 1969, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017 Drawing for ‘Reach’, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017
Drawing for ‘Beam’ 2, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017
Red hold, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper, 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017
Drawing for ‘Diamond float’ 2, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017 

Middle row from left: 

Yellow close, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017
Original drawing for ‘Banyon wall’, 1968, coloured paper collage on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017
Drawing for ‘New Seasons’, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017
Drawing for ‘Delphi’ 2, 1967–69, acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017

Bottom row from left: 

Drawing for ‘Epic’, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017 
Drawing for ‘Zonal turn’, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017
Drawing for ‘Temple’, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Gift of the estate of Sydney Ball 2017
Ticondera, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017
Strata span, 1967–69 acrylic, pencil on paper 58.0 x 78.0 cm; 69.7 x 88.5 x 3.5 cm framed. Purchased 2017 

All works collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Installation view of the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Courtesy Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney and Singapore and the Sydney Ball Estate 

Photograph: Document Photography

Location: Art Gallery of New South Wales