Sydney Ball was born on the 29th of October 1933 in Adelaide, South Australia, the son of Lillian and Sidney Ball. Because of his father’s war service he was awarded a repatriation scholarship to St Peter’s College. On leaving school he undertook a series of jobs including jackaroo and bank clerk.
After enrolling in architectual studies with Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz at the Workers Education Association he began to work as an architectural draughtsman, a discipline that influenced his later work. He joined the Royal South Australian Art Society’s weekend classes, and began to think of studying art full time. After taking some classes with James Cant, John Dowie and Dora Chapman at the South Australian Institute, he realised he needed international experience in order to fully develop as an artist.
In 1962 Ball travelled to New York and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League, studying lithography with Harry Sternberg and painting with Theodoros Stamos. He scoured both public art museums and commercial galleries, enticed by Matisse, as well as exhibitions by Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis and Mark Rothko. He exhibited at New York’s Westerly Gallery, and his work was favorably noted by Donald Judd.
The young Australian moved easily into the New York Creative milieu. Stamos introduced him to his colleagues, including Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Subsequently he was invited to Mark Rothko’s house for Thanksgiving.
In 1965 Ball returned to Australia via Japan, where he visited the shrines at Kyoto and Nara, sparking a lifelong interest in Asian philosophies and religions.
On his return to Adelaide Ball was appointed lecturer at the South Australian School of Art, where one of his students was Margaret Worth who he later married. He exhibited with some critical success in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, which brought his work to the attention of John Stringer and Brian Finemore who were planning an exhibition of Australian colourfield art to open the new National Gallery of Victoria.
As well as Ball’s work being included in the exhibition, he designed the lithograph exhibition poster.
In 1969 the Ball family returned to New York, but the marriage ended in 1971. Ball came to know the critic Clement Greenberg and through him others American artists who shared his passion for pure colour, including Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski and Jack Bush. He especially admired Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko’s approach to colour. After Rothko’s suicide he was asked to clean the studio.
In 1972 he returned to Australia, eventually settling in Sydney with an appointment a senior lecturer at the City Art Institute. He bought land at Glenorie, north of the city, and commissioned architect Glenn Murcutt to Design the house & studio which was completed in 1983. This became his base with his partner Lynne Eastaway until his death.
He continued to explore different systems of belief and their visual expression, from China and Tibet, Korea, India and the paintings by Aboriginal artists in a cave near his home.
After some years when abstract painting was out of favour, a revival of interest in both colour and the culture of the 1960s brought renewed attention to Ball’s art. In the last years of his life Ball’s work was included in a number of major survey exhibitions. In 2008 Anne Loxley curated a national touring exhibition, Sydney Ball: The Colour Paintings.
Sydney Ball died on 5 March 2017, at home in Glenorie, two days after suffering a stroke.


Joanna Mendelssohn
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