Gordon Walters (1919-95) was a pioneer of modernist abstraction in New Zealand. This painter showed an unflinching commitment to abstraction at a time when landscape was the norm. Walters is best known for his Koru works, whose unique stylisation of the Maori koru motif developed out of a phase of experimentation in the 1950s. The exhibition Gordon Walters: Prints + Design considers his printmaking and graphic design work as integral to his project.
Walters' earliest training was in commercial art, and for many years he worked at the Government Printing Office in Wellington. This background prepared him to successfully adapt his ideas to a variety of design contexts. The exhibition includes Walters' remarkable designs for such publications as Landfall, Ascent and Contemporary Maori Writing, along with a selection of Walters' page art for the magazine Te Ao Hou/The New World. This magazine, which reflects a key moment in New Zealand's bicultural history, was published by the Department of Maori Affairs and from 1962 to 1965 was edited by Walters' wife Margaret Orbell. A selection of works on paper from the late 1950s show how Walters drew on his painting in his designs for Te Ao Hou, publishing these images at a time when he was not exhibiting his paintings.
Walters' adoption of printmaking was part of a burgeoning interest in the medium in the late 1960s and 1970s. Printmaking enabled Walters' to bring his work to a wider audience, and the relatively new medium of screenprinting was perfectly suited to his hard-edged style. Indeed, Walters' screenprints are a highpoint in the medium in New Zealand. Printmaker Mervyn Williams, himself a painter, produced most of Walters' prints and ensured that they were realised to the artist's exacting standards. In addition to the prints, the exhibition includes collages, colour studies and camera-ready artwork, showing the intensive process by which Walters' developed his prints. "I find there is more work in all this than there is in doing a painting", he wrote in 1977.
Walters' use of Maori motifs has been the subject of much debate. His koru design for the New Zealand Film Commission has an important place in this exhibition. The logo, which was commissioned in 1979 and remains in use, has been enormously influential on New Zealand graphic design. As designer Michael Smythe wrote to Walters in 1983. "I believe you have essentially solved the problem of representing New Zealand's identity." Walters later remarked, "It seems that my approach is useful to graphic designers. I find it interesting that in spite of all the criticism, it is my reinterpretation of the [koru] motif which has been taken up and used to good effect."curated by William McAloon. also includes Walters' 1984 artist's book A Geometric Order. A collaboration with his friend, the painter Richard Killeen, its images were developed through a series of collages and working studies, a selection of which offer unique insight into Walters' working process.
Organised and presented by the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington.
- Main Gallery, Ground Level
- Free entry