Vale Alan Sisley: A city pays tribute to one of its finest

ALAN Sisley was the most interesting person his son Clive Sisley ever met, and few at the late-director’s memorial service on Saturday would have disagreed.

The mood was one of celebration and laughter as friends, associates and family reflected on Mr Sisley’s life.

Clive Sisley recounted family camping trips and his father’s love of Monty Python, even quoting the famous dead parrot sketch to laughs from the crowd.

“Dad loved information, especially new information,” he said.

“One of the things I’ll miss ... is all that knowledge. He taught us to think critically and question everything we were told or read.”

Artist Neil Cuthbert recounted the “spirited” speeches Mr Sisley delivered at end-of-year TAFE student art shows, which were at times “caustic” towards educational bureaucracy.

“Alan’s star shone brightest as he lifted us to a higher awareness of our collective creative pursuits,” he said.

Friends of Orange Regional Gallery (FORG) member Dr Bernie Huxtable applauded the former council’s decision to employ Mr Sisley with his “formidable intellectual gifts” in 1991.

“We started off as Friends of the  Orange Regional Gallery and ended up as friends of Alan Sisley,” he said.

“He was a very talented, but excessively modest, man who declined to get in the spotlight at any time.” 

He highlighted Mr Sisley’s exhibition of outsider art as an example of the director’s modesty, even when the exhibition toured Paris and won praise from Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald, who described the Orange gallery as the best regional gallery in Australia.

Dr Huxtable also praised Mr Sisley’s choice of art acquisitions for the gallery including works by Imants Tillers, Brett Whiteley, Rodney Pople and Mr Cuthbert, and his innovations such as paint the mayor, and displaying art at the Orange Health Service.

The memorial service’s MC, and FORG member, Gregson Edwards read an email from Bathurst councillor Jess Jennings saying Bathurst planned to follow Orange’s lead and display artworks at Bathurst Base Hospital.

FORG president Ros Kemp said Mr Sisley encouraged the group to do more, but “gently” let them know when they were encroaching on the work of gallery staff.

“Alan was responsible for a slight delusion we had in our importance,” Ms Kemp said, to laughs from the crowd.

“He paid us all the courtesy of treating us as intellectual equals.”

Ms Kemp said Mr Sisley cheerily called non-art lovers philistines, but saved his real criticism for those with closed minds.

“Dumbing things down or avoiding potential controversy was not something for Alan,” she said.

Dubbo Regional Gallery curator Kent Buchanan said Mr Sisley became a role model when he moved back to his hometown of Dubbo.

“Alan was incredibly active, incredibly outspoken and incredibly passionate. You [the gallery’s staff] are without a leader, but he’s instilled in you so much about what he’s about he’ll continue to influence this place for many years to come,” he said.

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