When Tyrone Layne moved from Auckland to Sydney three years ago, he immediately fell in love with his new home. “The warm climate, beautiful beaches and friendly locals helped make my decision to live here,” he says. It’s predominantly the friendly locals, though, that inspire his artwork.
Layne’s first studio was in Paddington and opened straight onto a busy footpath, giving him the opportunity to observe Sydneysiders going about their daily routines. “I felt part of the community,” he says. “Friendly locals would stop in to meet me and look at my work, or just to say hi.” These interactions helped shape his series of “people-scapes” – oil and acrylic paintings on canvas depicting a suburb or locality via the people that fill its streets.
These days, Layne rides his bike to a larger studio in Waterloo, but he says his techniques for observation are the same. He paints from photos he takes around Sydney, from Instagram images, from people-watching out his studio window and simply from memory. He mostly captures people as they go about any ordinary day – walking the dog, grabbing a coffee, hugging a loved one, berating a child, reading a book on a park bench. His pieces capture the essence of suburbs, individual streets and beaches – not through architecture or landmarks, but through the character and behaviour of the inhabitants.
Perhaps it’s his semi-outsider status that allows the Kiwi to see Sydneysiders more clearly than we see ourselves – to notice the tiny elements that make a particular locality unique. In Paddington, for example, he’s painted lots of young families walking their dogs, Sydney Swan supporters, women in activewear and army personnel from the barracks. In contrast, in Waterloo he’s captured labourers in hi-ves, Asian students and a homeless man who walks up and down Bourke Street with a pram.
Layne reckons it’s these small, almost subconscious details that combine to make a place instantly recognisable and memorable. Saint Cloche gallery in Paddington, where Layne has held a number of solo exhibitions, goes much further to describe his work as, “fresh and sensitively drawn observations of human behaviour”. If the volume of commissioned works he creates is anything to go by, his perspective certainly resonates with Sydneysiders. “I’d say that the people who do like my work do so because they can relate to it easily,” he says. “There’s a sense of familiarity that gives comfort to the viewer.”
Layne is currently working on a series of abstract paintings for a US exhibition planned for later this year. He’s already had exhibitions in Los Angeles, London and New York in 2018. These trips overseas often help him to look at Sydney with fresh eyes upon his return. “When I came home from a month in New York this August, I can remember how quiet the streets felt here,” he says. “Sydney is a good-looking city, whether it be the streets, beaches, or the people.”