In 2014 Dunedin Public Art Gallery received an important long-term loan; the estate collection of Gordon Walters, one of New Zealand's foremost modernist painters. Including over 640 catalogued items, the Gordon Walters Estate Loan Collection contains paintings, works on paper, screenprints, photography and ephemera that trace the development of Walters’ career from 1939 to 1995.
The Gordon Walters Estate Loan Collection is the largest among a number of long-term loan collections held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, each of which expands the institutional collection. Walters, who is best known for his mesmerising koru-based abstract compositions, died in Christchurch in 1995. Over subsequent years, his estate collection had been in various forms of private custodianship. Its transfer to Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2014 ensured that this significant collection could benefit from the care, attention, security and access that can be afforded by a public art institution.
The artworks, sketches, ephemera and archival material in this loan collection have never been easily accessible for research, exhibition or publication. The estate collection includes juvenilia and early paintings and drawings by the artist, who chose to withhold much of his early work from the public until much later in his career. The collection also contains source books, magazines, photography and ephemera that track Walters’ processes of research and experimentation; material that holds the key to understanding the development of his abstraction. In the development of Gordon Walters: New Vision the estate collection provided a rich, textural vein of research that greatly expanded how we understand Walters – providing context to the mature, hard-edged abstraction that audiences are most familiar with.
Walters was born in Wellington in 1919. He left school in 1935 to begin working as a commercial artist, and in the same year enrolled in evening art classes at Wellington Technical College. He left New Zealand for Australia and Europe in the late 1940s, seeking first-hand experiences of the kind of modernist abstraction he had seen in books and magazines. Returning home in 1953, Walters embarked on a period of experimentation, developing the abstract visual language that would provide the foundation for his later work. The estate collection contains many examples of the experimental works in gouache that characterise Walters’ oeuvre from the mid-1950s: small-scale pages, torn from a spiral-bound artists notebook, that speak volumes about an artist working from a modest home studio, exploring principles of abstraction in the hours spare from his day-job.