Gordon Walters

Circa 1969

Gordon Walters
Production date:
Circa 1969
Accession No:
1525 x 1145mm
Acrylic on canvas

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased with the assistance of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand in 1969.

Gordon Walters’ series of ‘koru’ paintings represents one of the key achievements of New Zealand abstract painting of the 20th century. For this series of works, which occupied Walters for long periods from the 1950s into the 1980s, the artist meticulously explored a limited range of forms and colours to produce paintings of impeccable economy and control. Using a motif lifted from traditional Māori kōwhaiwhai patterns, Walters subjected the koru form to rigorous geometric simplification. The deliberately impersonal geometry of Walters’ motif, achieved with ruler and compass, is balanced by his use of Māori titles. These refer to place names recalled from the artist’s childhood in Wellington, and thus anchor the works biographically and geographically.

Tamatea is unusual in Walters’ oeuvre in its use of colour. The fresh green and blue are equally weighted and together create an optical illusion; a shimmer of magenta and yellow seems to hum and crackle between the colour bands. The composition is equally lively, with a clear percussive rhythm drawn from the contrast between centre and sides. Here, the stem and bulb of the schematised koru motif could equally refer to musical notation.

By organising his composition so that colour bands extend from the sides of the painting to meet with circular terminations in the centre, Walters creates a system that speaks about opposing forces coming together. Like two tectonic plates pushing together to form an uneven spine of land in the ocean, a finely calibrated archipelago of dots and dashes is created. Walters’ art is characterised by its balance of precise calculation and intuition. While his paintings were made with the utmost mathematical control, the compositions were decided “by the eye” and therefore incorporate the artist’s rhythmic sensitivity and flair.