Gordon Walters (1919-1995) Kahukura 1968 pva and acrylic on canvas 114 x 152 Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection

Gordon Walters is one of New Zealand’s most significant modernist artists. He is best known for his abstract paintings which integrate and transform Māori kowhaiwhai painting, and for his later geometric abstractions. Kahukura is a significant example of his koru series painted from the mid 1960s to 1983.

In these works, Walters reduced the organic shape of the koru into a severely abstracted form, a result of melding his interest in Māori meeting house rafter decorative design with the ideas of international modernist abstraction.

On a formal level, the koru paintings combine and contrast the curvilinear with the rectilinear, repetition with difference, symmetry with asymmetry. The interplay of positive and negative is stated through the restricted range of formal elements. Walters combined two colours (or black and white) to generate a shimmering, restless optical uncertainty reminiscent of Op art.

Since this period, critics have debated the propriety of Walters’ interpretation and appropriation of the koru. Walters’ interest in translating the koru was an endeavour to bring European and Māori traditions into a harmonic unity. His koru paintings are now subject to critical revision and appreciation.