b. 1954, New Zealand

John Walsh Biography

John Walsh is a Māori painter and printmaker with a surreal sensibility, known for his vivid and brooding depictions of the myths and legends of East Coast Māori.

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Early Years

Although he briefly attended Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch in the early 1970s, Walsh is mainly self-taught. Known now for distinctive narrative images set in primal landscapes rich in glowing blue translucent washes and a supernatural ambience, initially he painted family portraits and murals in the East Coast, while doing seasonal jobs and also working on marae restoration. In the 1980s he taught at Tairāwhiti Polytechnic.

It was only in 1993 when he became curator of Māori art at the National Gallery in Wellington, which later became Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, that Walsh had a solo exhibition in a dealer space.

John Walsh Artworks

John Walsh's very early works were comparatively small, and less involved with landscape settings, but he soon began exploring more dramatic scales for the Māori stories he illustrated. The expressionist technique he uses, with thin watery scumbled paint to present expansive space, has a lot in common with Australian artists like Sydney Nolan, who also dealt with myth. Walsh explores a wide range of images in works such as Hine Titama becomes Hine Nui te Po (2002), Migrating Koru (2003), They'll Be Here Soon (2004), Te Ara (2007), Marakihau (Post-Homo Travellus) (2007), and The Lady and Her Attendants (2007).

Later Walsh's paintings became a little denser with their placement of subject matter, greater range of colour, and less air. These include Pare to my Place (2017), Whare Waka (2019), Whakapapatanga (2017), and Whare Waka (2017).

Other works are very different from his normal compositions, being explicitly political, and laden with Māori and English text, and addressing the viewer about the ecological consequences of reckless waste and desecration. The paired canvases of Uawa Tolaga Bay (2020) verbally and visually attack the East Coast forestry companies as 'predators' for clearing native bush and planting tracts of pine to be harvested, resulting in decomposing root systems that cause vast areas of top soil to be washed into the sea.

Awards and Accolades

In 2007, Walsh was selected as a Creative New Zealand Antarctica Artist in Residence.


John Walsh has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.

Recent solo exhibitions include The Dark and the Light, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland (2021); Things Have Changed, The Central, Christchurch (2021); Mercurial, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland (2019); John Walsh, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington (2018); John Walsh, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland (2017); Matakite Panoramic Visions, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua (2016).

Recent group exhibitions include Waituhi, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland (2021); Art on the Streets of Wellington, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington (2018); John Walsh/Paul Nache, Art Central Hong Kong (2017); Your Friend the Enemy, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua (2016).


Walsh's artwork is held in the collections of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland; Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea; and Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021

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