Over recent years painter John Walsh has steadily built up a distinctive stylistic repertoire. His paintings combine an expressive gestural technique of loose brushwork and delicate washes of colour in jewel-like tones of vivid blues and greens. He incorporates customary Maori narrative as a vehicle to explore contemporary issues. Walsh concedes, “There are a lot tragic stories in the news, dysfunctional families, abuse. I wanted to relate the events of the first family to contemporary family situations.” (John Walsh, artist statement, Orokohanga – Genesis, 2002).
In this latest series of works Walsh continues to weave ancient and contemporary narratives while also creating an ethereal mood and a sense of timelessness. Fantastical dreamscapes and vistas, occupied by ancient beings, gods and demigods are engaged in discussing current affairs such as global warming thereby bringing contemporary relevance to his works and highlighting that the past and the ancestors depicted are ever-present.
Born in Tolaga Bay in New Zealand’s North Island, John Walsh spent much of his early days in the Gisborne region before travelling to Christchurch where he attended Ilam School of Fine Arts at Canterbury University between 1973 and 1974. He later returned to the East Coast where he specialised in portraiture. From the mid 70’s he worked on Marae restoration and related art projects before taking up teaching and curatorial positions.
It was his cultural upbringing and later access to both Maori taonga (treasures) and contemporary art while working as a curator at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand that provided the impetus for a new body of work in 2001. Wrote artist Lisa Reihana – “I am surprised by this latest work, there is a new clarity of vision. Still the restrained brush-strokes, but the figures are more defined, three dimensional and powerful, the characters carved out against their backgrounds. The nostalgic sepia tones have given way to verdant bush greens and ocean blues. Events are alive and happening.” (“Flipping & Gliding, Grinning & Flying – the art of John Walsh”, Art New Zealand, No. 101, 2002)
Walsh’s work has been included in significant curated exhibitions in recent years such as Purangiaho – Seeing Clearly at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, 2001, Parihaka – the Art of Passive Resistance at the City Gallery, Wellington, 2001 and more recently Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf at Te Tuhi The Mark curated by Emma Bugden and Pita Turei.