Peter Siddell is a self taught artist who followed a somewhat varied career path before he began painting. Starting out as an electrician then becoming a schoolteacher and then moving into painting full time he seems to fit the mould of a ‘kiwi do-it-yourselfer’
Siddell is one of New Zealand’s most widely recognised painters. This may be attributable to his choice of subject matter as well as his distinctive style of painting. The landscapes that he paints are the places where he lives or spends time; the places he knows. The domes of Auckland volcanoes, the harbour, the distinctive architecture of the Auckland villa all add an evocative aspect to his work that New Zealanders identify with.
As one of New Zealand’s most prominent realist painters, Sir Peter Siddell is perhaps best-known for his unpopulated cityscapes which appear familiar, yet are not identifiable. He draws together different elements from a variety of sources to create timeless images of neighbourhoods that look uninhabited despite there being evidence of earlier human presence. These cities are clean, tidy, carless and unpeopled. The houses’ interiors, seen through clean windows, are empty. The presence of people is implied by such devices as a door left open, or a view that is placed immediately in front of the viewer. It is as if all the inhabitants of that city or neighbourhood have fled a plague, leaving their buildings in perfect condition. These scenes have been likened to a stage set between rehearsals.
The images Siddell constructs in his paintings have an element of the surreal about them with the artist as the omnipotent being creating the idealised landscape. There is a sense of anticipation and unease about Siddell’s world, which has no human participants and an eerie quietness blanketing it. One cannot help but wonder what is happening behind the blank facades which his houses present to the viewer.
Siddell has also painted New Zealand landscapes, including dramatic panoramas, throughout his career, and did include people in his early works. He has painted full time since his solo exhibition in1972. Knighted for his service to the arts in 2008, Sir Peter Siddell died in 2011.