While Sydney’s outdoor art draws crowds – think: famous architecture like the Sydney Opera House and the popular Sculpture by the Sea – the city is dotted with lesser-known galleries that intrigue, surprise and delight. Tim Ross finds his culture fix on the streets of Paddington in the eastern suburbs, highlighting Sydney’s best art galleries and exhibitions in one easy walking trail.

 “You don’t have to be an art collector to come to an exhibition opening,” says photographic and video artist Leila Jeffreys. “You can just walk into all these different galleries that are scattered all over Sydney. There’s so much diversity of art you can see.” 

Art Gallery of NSW exterior, Sydney

Visiting the city’s galleries is one of the many things I love doing in Sydney. The wonderful art scene weaves through the city, through its public art and its private and public galleries but most of all it stems through the creative people that make it. “I think that art is a really interesting way to experience the city, because you can walk everywhere,” says artist Brook Andrew, whose work can be seen at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

From big institutions like the AGNSW at the Domain and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia at Circular Quay to the small neighbourhood galleries clustered around town, an afternoon spent exploring never fails to surprise. 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Paddington, a short drive east of the CBD, has long been an artist’s hub, much like New York's Greenwich Village or London's Chelsea. I often start my self-guided Sydney art explorations here. First up is Saint Cloche, a contemporary gallery with ever changing exhibitions – one day it might be a wonderland of textures and patterns crafted from leaves, branches and seed pods by artist Tracey Deep; on another you might walk into a space filled with abstract shapes, the vision of Evi O. “Artists, I think, give an honest reflection of what the city is – good and bad, dark and light,” she says. Of Sydney, she adds, “we’ve got water, we’ve got nature, we’ve got urban [landscapes] – I mean, if you don’t love this city something’s wrong with you.”

Next is a stroll down the suburb’s historic streets, their Victorian terraces decorated with distinctive cast-iron known as Paddington Lace, on the way to galleries including Wagner Contemporary, Martin Browne Contemporary, Sarah Cottier and Roslyn Oxley9 (which has shown works by renowned Australian artists including Tracey Moffatt and Patricia Piccinini). 

I’ll stop-in at Piermarq and then Blender (the best spot to find prints of musicians and bands including Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles) before ambling towards Woollahra to finish at Olsen Gallery where owner Tim Olsen (son of iconic artist John Olsen) has cultivated a stable of artists that he feels presents a comprehensive view of contemporary arts in Australia. It’s filled with large scale oil paintings and sculptural works by Stephen Ormandy (co-founder of internationally acclaimed jewellery and homewares label Dinosaur Designs) as well as incredible works of birdlife by Leila Jeffreys.

There are always works that resonate and inspire people to look at the world in a different way. Such is the power of art; it moves you. Art can be confronting, it can challenge you, delight you and create intrigue.

But here’s a tip: When you step into these galleries, use the sign-in book – it lets artists know you’ve seen their work. Plus, you’ll be the first to know when galleries are holding exhibition openings so you have the opportunity to start, or add to, your own art collection.

SEE ALSO: Tim Ross’s Love Letter to Sydney

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