Creative Cauldron - Sydney Long – art nouveau and symbolism

Monday, October 08, 2012

Artist inspiration and artist influences. No biographies, dates or scholarly research here -  this is a  personal response to the work of Sydney Long by Australian artist Fiona Morgan.

Sydney Long painting - Spirit of the Plains
Sydney Long - Spirit of the Plains

Spirit of the Plains is probably the best known work of Sydney Long. He spent part of his career striving for "soulful and graceful evocations of the spirit of the land, as did the Greeks and their beautiful myths." (thanks Wikipedia). This painting is the zenith of his work. Seen in real life, it's incredibly compelling.

Sydney Long painting - The West Wind
Sydney Long - The West Wind
Sydney Long painting - Pan
Sydney Long - Pan

He seems to be most well known for his symbolism paintings. He did achieve the poetry and evocation of the spirit he was aiming for, though it was a very Western spirit transplanted onto the very non-Western, Australian landscape. It was definitely a product of it's time (Art Nouveau era). Despite the oddness of ancient Greece myths set in the Australian bush, I think he achieved some stunningly beautiful work. Really being able to capture the spirit, or the essence, of a sentiment is difficult to do visually and something I admire.

Sydney Long painting - Flamingos
Sydney Long - Flamingos

And sometimes, like Tom Thomson, he uses a decorative, pattern based line that flows. I love this effect.

Sydney Long painting - The Drover
Sydney Long - The Drover
Less odd was his adaptation of the sinuous dancing lines of Art Nouveau to the Australian landscape. Hills swirl, sinewy trees are formed into enveloping patterns and clouds dance. I think his vision of movement in these objects is inspirational.

Sydney Long painting - Pastoral Landscape
Sydney Long - Pastoral Landscape

Sydney Long painting - The Valley
Sydney Long - The Valley
Once again I notice that Sydney Long's colour is very Australian. This is definitely something I am drawn to.  This attribute is part of why I also admire the works of Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Warwick Fuller. Time to pay closer attention to my own colour mixes.

Sydney Long painting - Evening
Sydney Long - Evening
Sydney Long painting - Moonlight Pastoral
Sydney Long - Moonlight Pastoral

Something that's not mentioned of Sydney Long's work is it's luminous quality. All of his paintings that I've seen have this luminous glow to them. Have a quick scan through the examples here and you will see that many of these are backlit. The sky is a great colourful light and the foreground is a pattern with deep rich colour. Gorgeous floating pastels contrasted with dark sumptuous colour. It's a recipe that works and I am taking note!
Sydney Long painting - Moonlit Pastorale
Sydney Long - Moonlit Pastorale
Sydney Long painting - Moonlight Pastoral
Sydney Long - Moonlight Pastoral
Probably because his symbolic paintings grab so much attention, Sydney Long's nocturnes and moonrises don't seem to get a mention. He did piles of them (and seemed to name most of them Moonlight or Pastoral or variations thereof). I think they are beautiful. They capture the quiet serenity of being out in the open and free. Big relaxing breaths at the end of the day. Can you feel the magic of the moment of dusk when almost anything could happen?

Sydney Long painting - Pastoral
Sydney Long - Pastoral

Just to put Art Nouveau in context, this is the sort of imagery that was being created at the time, also full of decorative sinuous linework:

Alfonse Mucha - Summer
Alfonse Mucha - Summer
Aubrey Beardsley - The Peacock Skirt
Aubrey Beardsley - The Peacock Skirt

About the Creative Cauldron series of posts

Creative Cauldron - artistic influences & inspiration for Australian artist Fiona MorganThe Creative Cauldron series of posts explores and showcases the visual styles, techniques, attitudes, ideas, artists and paintings that have had the most impact on me. 

The rest of the series is accessible via the Creative Cauldron page. Have a meander if you please, and remember to check out my artworks on Flickr, and have an insider peek at life as an artist on Facebook.

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