Gordon Walters unlocked: Laurence Simmons – Revelation and Reassessment


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Major survey exhibitions of an artist like Gordon Walters: New Vision are moments of both revelation and reassessment.

Professor Laurence Simmons, Media and Communication, University of Auckland will discuss the importance of intuition, chance, randomness, colour, sensuality and mysticism for Gordon Walters and will seek to demonstrate the active participation in a varied cultural history that lies beneath his work.


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Walters’ landmark exhibition of his early koru paintings at New Vision Gallery in Auckland in 1966 established him as one of New Zealand’s leading painters of abstraction. But the black and white koru works — that would become Walters’ signature by the 1980s — baffled most critics who saw Walters’ work as the product of an austere, distanced personality. Gordon Brown and Hamish Keith in their early An Introduction to New Zealand Painting (1969) dismissed Walters’ painting as ‘pattern painting’ and the result of ‘a servile formalism’. The adjectives that recur again and again in all critical writing about Walters to date reflect such a line: ‘austere’, ‘controlled’, ‘restrained’, ‘calculated’, ‘elegant clarity’, ‘economical severity’. But as Gordon Walters: New Vision has revealed to me, this critical acceptance of Walters as the rarified researcher of an austere aesthetics of silence — one that places the importance of his art squarely in the metaphysical dimensions of a spare, controlled iconography — does not begin to explore the real depth of his work.

Gordon Walters: New Vision offers a fresh and persuasive perspective on its subject, provoking thoughtful engagement with his work, with paintings by other artists, and the sources which influenced him. A truly ‘new vision’ that will transform our understanding of Walters and show us what he has always been hiding in plain sight in his work.

Auditorium, lower ground level

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