Gordon Walters | From the Archive
05.02.20 - 07.03.20
Starkwhite is pleased to present Gordon Walters: From the Archive from 5 February – 7 March 2020, in partnership with the Walters Estate. Developed with Laurence Simmons, one of the curators of the survey exhibition Gordon Walters: New Vision, the exhibition highlights the way Walters used drawing, collage, and preparatory studies (gouache and acrylic on paper) to explore the dynamic elements he used in his paintings, focusing on many of his lesser-known motifs.
Artist’s preliminary workings are often private acts, not meant to be viewed alongside the finished work. But being able to see early iterations of an idea offers a window into creative process and allows the viewer to trace the stylistic evolution of form or composition in an work. While many of Gordon Walters’ art works feel sharp and the relationships between their forms resolved, this exhibition of drawings, gouaches, and collages that led to the finished art works provides an entry point into the thinking and process of one of New Zealand’s most significant artists.
Gordon Walters: From the Archive concentrates on un-chartered territory – Walters’ inquiry-driven approach to resolving space, form, and the relationship between forms. In a curated selection of works from the Walters Estate collection housed at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the viewer can trace how Walters worked through the possibilities of such geometric forms and figure-ground relationships across preparatory works. Walters’ way of working was what writer Laurence Simmons has called an “elaborated intellectual practice of painting”. These studies are a conversation of sorts, sometimes over many years, as Walters absorbed and re-presented influences and formal relationships.
This selection showcases the research, thinking, and detail that went into Gordon Walters’ practice, making visible the processes and problem-solving activity he engaged in. There’s nothing formulaic to be seen in the studies, only experimentation as motifs and blocks of opposing colour are moved, flipped, and repurposed to visually bounce off each other in new configurations. Some motifs that start as geometric structures seem to adopt a more organic rhythm or sensuousness in their final form. Others revert to formality and repetition of form. In some of the works it is possible to trace a sequence of preparatory studies to their finished form, watching as the artist expands and distils shape and structure, only to discard this for a more restrained or isolated segmentation of form.
Gordon Walters is a revered figure in New Zealand, recognised for a long and productive career spanning five decades. The Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and Dunedin Public Art Gallery organised a major retrospective exhibition of his work – Gordon Walters: New Vision – which is currently touring New Zealand. The Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki also staged a retrospective exhibition his work in 1983 and a survey exhibition Parallel Lines in 1994, and he has been included in many survey shows, including A Very Peculiar Practice: Aspects of Recent New Zealand Art at City Gallery, Wellington. Walters is represented in the country’s major public collections and his place in our art history is also memorialised in the bi-annual Walters Prize exhibition and award at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.
Aside from Australia, where his work has been seen in Headlands: thinking through New Zealand Art at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (1992) and the 5th Asia Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (2006-2007), Gordon Walters’ work has not found its way onto the international stage. This provided an opportunity for an important initiative by Starkwhite and the Walters Estate – to stage a solo exhibition of his paintings at Art Basel Hong Kong (one of the world’s greatest art fairs) in 2015, where it was seen by international curators, exhibition makers and influential collectors. Starkwhite also presented Walters again at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2016, along with Arnold Manaaki Wilson and Fiona Pardington. These presentations represent a small step towards granting Walters the international recognition he so richly deserves.