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Object: New Zealand landscape

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Title New Zealand landscape
Production Walters, Gordon (artist), 1947, Wellington
Medium summary oil on cardboard
Materials oil paint, cardboard
Classification paintings
Dimensions Image: 325mm (Height) x 425mm (Width)
Credit line Gift of the Friends of the National Art Gallery, 1991
Registration number 1991-0004-1

This painting is one of the earliest examples of Gordon Walters's lifelong interest in Mäori art. New Zealand landscape was painted after seeing the Mäori rock drawings of the South Island of New Zealand. Landscape elements are radically simplified and placed flat against a honey-coloured surface, evoking the limestone caves where the rock drawings are located. Walters' painting rejects the techniques of academic art, and marks the arrival of modernism in New Zealand.

Gordon Walters and Theo Schoon
Walters came into contact with the rock drawings through his friendship with Theo Schoon, an Indonesian-born Dutch artist who came to New Zealand in 1939. Schoon was documenting the rock drawings in 1946, when Walters went to stay with him in South Canterbury. Schoon's interest in Mäori art, and his first-hand contact with the rock drawings, met Walters's own growing awareness of modern art, especially abstraction.

Primitivism
New Zealand landscape illustrates the importance of contact between Päkehä art and Mäori art in the development of modernism in New Zealand. Walters was, along with artists like Theo Schoon and Dennis Knight Turner, one of the leading exponents of primitivism - an interest in, and use of, non-European art forms. New Zealand Landscape suggests Walters's familiarity with Paul Klee's art, and shows how Mäori rock drawing could be put to a similar use as African and Oceanic art to make a local modern art.

An important abstraction
Walters is best known for his koru series, in which the elements of köwhaiwhai have been radically simplified into a repeated bar and circle motif. Working with ambiguities of figure and ground, or background and foreground, the koru paintings have an optical shimmer. Te Papa has a number of later paintings by Walters, which reveal the artist's investigation of painterly issues first established in New Zealand landscape.

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