Makaro by Gordon Walters

Makaro by Gordon Walters

Makaro, 1969, by Gordon Walters.

Gordon Walters (1919–95) grew up in Wellington and trained at the Wellington Technical School of Art. His early work was inspired by the Māori rock art of South Canterbury and North Otago, while his later works lean towards tightly painted geometric abstraction.

The design in Makaro is derived from the koru motif, best known from painted heke (rafters) in meeting houses. Walters has straightened the stem and integrated the foreground and background in a way not seen in customary Māori contexts.

Walters was criticised for appropriating Māori art without regard to its cultural meanings. He responded: ‘all I have done with the koru motif is make a reference to it and naturally, since I’m a contemporary Pakeha artist, the result is not Maori art. It’s not supposed to be.’

Walters was interested in the dynamic relationship between different forms. It is the repetitive and decorative qualities, and the figure/ground ambiguities which create spatial illusions (all characteristics of op art), that are the subject of this work. At this time, Walters was one of the most sophisticated modernist artists working in this kind of geometric abstraction in New Zealand.

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