Obituary: Sir Peter Siddell

By Bob Harvey

Artist Peter Siddell, 1935-2011. Photo / APN
Artist Peter Siddell, 1935-2011. Photo / APN

Sir Peter Siddell loved the bleak tapestry of the wild west coast, particularly the Karekare cliffs and seascape. His first exhibition in 1972 contained many small exquisite cliffs and rock images and a rare Siddell, Girl at the Gate, had a human figure.

The exhibition was a sellout and he immediately retired from teaching and became a full-time painter.

Born in the heart of old Auckland in Grey Lynn in 1935, he was a self-taught painter who was educated at Mt Albert Grammar School and Auckland College of Education. He left school to first become an electrician.

As a schoolboy, he delivered the morning newspapers on his bike around Ponsonby and Grey Lynn to rows of villas that he would later paint and transpose to unpopulated Auckland landscapes and fields of uncut grass. His landscapes depicted an unquiet stillness and his large canvases would boldly take in the whole coastline from Karekare to Whatipu.

His magic realism of city and townscapes took the viewer into a secret journey of the interiors of pristine suburban double-storey, finial topped houses standing empty on the volcanic Auckland landscape.

Stunning in their realism, his composition of houses, landscapes, sky and cloud made a Siddell exhibition a highlight of the art scene.

His early love of mountain climbing, where he earned the nickname "Spin", saw him return to the southern landscapes in 2000 to paint fiords, Milford Sound and snowcapped mountains, but he continued to return to his small bach at Karekare with his wife, Lady Sylvia Siddell, also a painter, who passed away in August.

He was so successful his work was bought by major public art galleries, and Siddells graced corporate board rooms and foyers as well as institutional collections. Generous to a fault, he would donate work for charities and fundraising.

In 1990, he was made a companion of the Queen's Service Order, then knighted in 2008 - the same year he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour.

In February this year, Random House published his book The Art of Peter Siddell. A retrospective exhibition of his life and work was later opened at Lopdell House.

He died at Mercy Hospice on Monday. He is survived by daughters Avril and Emily and three grandsons.

- NZ Herald

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