Gordon Walters: a glossary
Across five decades, Walters developed a dynamic visual language which consisted of a vocabulary of elegant geometric forms. Art historian Francis Pound put language to Walters’ abstraction, describing and naming a number of the forms. Pound listed these in the 2004 publication Walters En Abyme: transparencies, stripes, interlocks, ziggurats, notched rectangles, mini-retrospectives (which gathered into one work motifs previously used in others), sprocket-edged forms, spirals, tessellations, tapa-like triangulations, crosses (which Walters called Constructions), disintegration and rearrangement of a given form within the one work, quartered rectangles, horizontal or vertical rectangles bisected horizontally, and the composition en abyme.
This glossary details some of Walters’ most important and enduring forms, all of which can be identified in this exhibition.
Mise en abyme exists in art and writing and has been described as ‘a means by which a work turns back on itself, appears to be a kind of reflection’. Walters explored this particular visual relationship throughout the later phase of his career, although the first en abyme painting was produced in the early 1950s. The main source of inspiration for the en abyme paintings was Rolfe Hattaway, who produced a sketch on paper in 1949 of a rectangular shape repeated inside itself.
This grid painting draws inspiration from a Polynesian lashing pattern which Walters saw in a diagram in a Bishop Museum publication.
Gordon Walters in his studio 1978
Marti Friedlander Archive
EH McCormick Research Library, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
Courtesy Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust