In the mid-1960s, Gordon Walters emerged as a unique presence in the modern movement in New Zealand, engaging with international modernism in a series of geometric, abstract paintings that positioned the traditional, organic koru form of Māori art within the aesthetics of European and American abstraction.
Walters had attended the Wellington Technical School of Art (1935-1944), becoming interested in European modernism through reproductions of works by Yves Tanguy and his association with Dutch refugee, Theo Schoon, who introduced Walters to Māori rock art.
Travelling to Europe in 1950, he was exposed to works by Mondrian, as well as the pure abstraction of Victor Vasarely. In the mid fifties he had researched Māori rafter painting and decorative design by visiting museums with fellow artist Theo Schoon and analyzing the forms. Walters modified the motif by geometricizing it and alternating positive and negative versions in the manner of the Italian painter Giuseppe Caprogrossi (1900 -1972) but with a horizontal axis. From the mid-1950s his painting utilized the koru form, taken from kowhaiwhai panels and tattoo, responding to its potential for simultaneously defining positive and negative space on the surface of the picture plane.
Using black and white (softened sometimes to grey and cream) Walters’ canvases created a pulsing musicality. When the korus were vertically stacked, an optical shimmer akin to that found in the works of Bridget Riley, occurred. Or when sparely organized, a subtle lyricism was created. Walters also often experimented with muted colour and dramatically enlarged korus, always settling on final composition and scale by adjusting preparatory collages.
In the mid eighties Walters abandoned korus and began using austere boxlike compositions that investigated planar tensions and spatial suggestiveness resulting from transparent shape, the result of his long interest in the French abstract artist Herbin, the American abstract artist McLaughlin and forms found in Māori cave art.
This much revered figure of New Zealand modernism is in all New Zealand’s major collections. In 1983 Auckland Art gallery presented a retrospective of his career so far and a major book on his work is currently being prepared by art historian Francis Pound.
Private collection Hamilton
View At Ocula Black Gallery
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Artwork Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Artwork Dimensions (including frame, if applicable): 79 x 59 x 2 cm
Artwork Weight: TBC
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