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Australian art

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Syncopation no 5



Peter Upward


29 Sep 1932 - Nov 1983


'Everything is done in one movement … with musical impulse, the same musical impulse as musicians when they improvise. My paintings are a series of chords and notes'.
Peter Upward 1972

Peter Upward's interest in jazz, especially bebop, is encapsulated in the colour and gestures of his 1959 painting 'Syncopation no 5'. Syncopation, a musical term applied to a steady backbeat overlaid with an irregular rhythmic melody and/or harmony, has been adopted and employed by the artist in his lively application of oil onto canvas. It is one of a series of works that Upward created during the late 1950s and early 1960s (including the Gallery's '(Abstract)' and 'Surry Hills Green') which were influenced by the progressive cultural ideas of Sydney and its artists, writers and musicians. With a tertiary, earthy palette and large, expressive yet controlled brushwork, 'Syncopation no 5' is also lyrically resonant of the Australian landscape.

'Syncopation no 5' firmly establishes Upward's reputation as a highly original and underrated figure in the history of Australian painting. While the artist's work is often categorised as 'abstract expressionist', it should be noted that his practice was influenced by a number of varied and unique sources; besides music these included reproductions in international books and journals, his readings on Zen spirituality (particularly the book Studies in Zen by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki) as well as Chinese and Japanese calligraphy.

Peter Upward was born in Melbourne in 1932 and spent much of his childhood at Warrandye, attending an alternative school where he was briefly taught by Danila Vassilieff. He commenced studies in art at Melbourne Technical College in 1951 but soon left for Sydney, where he studied at the Julian Ashton Art School under John Passmore, who encouraged his interest in abstraction. After returning to Melbourne, Upward began making regular trips to Sydney from 1959 and rapidly became immersed in the bohemian culture of Kings Cross. He later established a studio in Brougham Street, Woolloomooloo, and in 1961 co-founded the Sydney 9 group with fellow abstractionists John Olsen, Clement Meadmore and Stanislaus Rapotec.


Other Title


Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


95.0 x 215.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., black oil "Upward 59".


Mollie and Jim Gowing Bequest Fund 2013


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Peter Upward

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Christopher Dean, Frozen gestures: the art of Peter Upward, Emu Plains, 2007. 4