Remembered especially for his Koru or Pītau series, Gordon Walters’s explorations into modernist abstract painting are invested with a distinctly South Pacific energy.
This comprehensive survey features major works from many public and private collections including the Gallery’s Untitled (1956), which relates to the Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu pigment on rock drawings at the Ōpihi River, and Black on White (1965) which is one of the first koru or pītau paintings. The artist’s notes and workbooks are also exhibited for the first time, offering insight into his working methods.
Developed and toured in partnership by the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
- Exhibition number: 1064
Welcome to the summer 2018/19 edition of Bulletin. There’s no doubt that artists are essential to a gallery, but artists are also an essential component of what makes a city an exciting and great place to live. Here in Christchurch we have a considerable history of great art making, and one of the joys of our jobs here at Te Puna o Waiwhetū is working with artists.
Te Waipounamu the South Island is crisscrossed by hundreds of traditional mahinga kai, or food-gathering, routes. Used by Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu people over centuries, these routes provided access to the best destinations to harvest food, as well as facilitating the transport of pounamu from the Arahura through Nōti Raukura (Browning’s Pass) across Ka Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps) to Tuahiwi, north of Christchurch.
Gordon Walters is best-known for work that fused the influence of European modernist art and Māori and Pacific art forms, particularly the koru motif of painted kōwhaiwhai rafter designs. Walters’ influences from European modernism included the hard-edged geometric abstractions of Victor Vasarely and Auguste Herbin, seen while in Europe in 1950–51. Walters made his first optically charged ‘koru paintings’ in 1956, but didn’t show them until 1966 when he first exhibited this painting in Auckland.
Walters’ adaptation of the koru has been both admired and criticised by cultural commentators. Walters himself, when discussing the motif, increasingly focused on the fine mechanics of abstraction:
'What I’ve done to the form is push it more in the direction of geometry. So that I can have in my painting not only a positive/negative effect of black and white, but I can also have a working of vertical and horizontal, which is equally important.' (Op + Pop, 6 February – 19 June 2016)