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Gordon Frederick Walters (24 September 1919 – 5 November 1995) was a Wellington-born artist and graphic designer who is significant to New Zealand culture due to his representation of New Zealand in his Modern Abstract artworks.
Gordon Walters grew up in Wellington where he went to Miramar South School and Rongotai College. From 1935 to 1939 Walters studied as a commercial artist at Wellington Technical College under Frederick V. Ellis.
Early influence and experiences
Walters applied for the army during World War II. However, he was turned down due to medical problems and took up a job in the Ministry of Supply doing illustrations. Walters traveled to Australia in 1946 and then visited photographer and painter Theo Schoon in South Canterbury who was photographing Māori rock art at Opihi River. This visit was central to Walters work as he began using Māori cultural themes in his painting. In 1950 Walters moved to Europe where he became influenced by Piet Mondrian, Victor Vasarely and Auguste Herbin. On his return to New Zealand in 1953, Walters began to fuse abstract modernism with traditional Māori art.
The Koru series
Walters' designs progressed and New Zealand shapes and ideas were important themes. The geometric spiral form of the Koru began appearing consistently in his work from the late 1950s. Walters stated “My work is an investigation of positive/ negative relationships within a deliberately limited range of forms; the forms I use have no descriptive value in themselves and are used solely to demonstrate relations. I believe that dynamic relations are most clearly expressed by the repetition of a few simple elements.”
Walters' best known work, Maheno, was painted in 1981 and formed part of an ongoing koru series. The painting brings both Māori and European ideas together through geometric abstraction and Māori culture expressed through both image and language with the koru and the title 'Maheno' in Māori. Koru is a Māori word that has now become part of mainstream New Zealand English, describing the growing tip of a fern frond.
- Works by Gordon Walters in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
- Victoria University: Gordon Walters Prints + Design
- Artworks by Gordon Walters in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery
- Discussion around reproduction of Gordon Walters Prints
- Christchurch Art Gallery: Infosheet on Untitled, 1985 (pdf)
- Christchurch Art Gallery: Infosheet on Untitled (Koru Series), 1981 (pdf)
- Dunn, Michael. "Gordon Frederick Walters". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Dunn, Michael (February 1978). "The Enigma of Gordon Walters' Art". Art New Zealand (9).