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John Walsh paintings combine landscapes and dreamworlds

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

John Walsh “Dali and Company pass through the Pacific”

John Walsh, The Dark and the Light

Gow Langsford Gallery

Until July 31

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In his dealings with issues around land and cultural identity John Walsh has often populated his paintings with figures. In his latest exhibition “The Dark and the Light” at the Gow Langsford Gallery as well as human figures there are animals and wraith-like apparitions – spirits or symbols evolving out of the land, bush and water.

His landscapes are generally precolonial views offering not just an example of what the landscapes might have looked like more than two hundred years ago but how a Maori artist from that time might have combined the natural flora, fauna and human figures along with the presence of mythic and ancestral presences.

One of the larger works in the show “Dali and Company pass through the Pacific” ($45,000) depicts a figure nestled in a submarine-like traditional Maori fishing net with a distant Auckland under a purple haze. The work seems pertinent as several of the works of Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealist are on exhibition at Te Papa at the moment.

There is a kinship between the Surrealists and Maori artists in that both acknowledged the importance of the dream for inspiration and as subject matter. The worlds Walsh creates often have a surrealist or dreamlike quality providing the key to an understanding of the way in which past present and future can merge.

His worlds are populated by symbolic figures who are ever watchful as they protect, guard and portend. They exist as real, mythological and metaphorical is a clever entwining of the cultures and personal iconography.

In the panoramic “Ruru” ($18,000) the bird acts as a watchful guardian of the land while in “Marakihua ($12,000) the man-fish is presented as some form of protector of the seas.

John Walsh, “Untitled (Horse)”

With “Untitled (Horse)” ($7750) a white horse stands in the landscape which features an iridescent cluster of light that hovers over the land. While horses have never been part of traditional Maori mythology, they have taken on something of a spiritual or mystical role tied to the Christian notions of the white horse of the Book of Revelations.

That work and “Worship” ($7750) which has a sole figure clutching a large frond while contemplating a brilliant star constellation appear to be recognitions of Matariki and thec oming of the new year – the Earth emerging out of darkness.

With all these works the artist uses a misty dark palette providing a sense of otherworldliness.Hhis intense blues, pounamu greens and volcanic reds help create paintings which are political, metaphorical and meditative, linking history and contemporary events.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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