Wellington-born abstract painter Gordon Walters is best known for his starkly geometric, hard-edged work based around the adaptation of Māori koru and pitau motifs. These, in turn, originate from the furled fronds of native ferns, and are a striking feature of Māori kowhaiwhai (painted rafters of the meeting house), where they represent the life force of nature and tribal genealogy. The koru is easily the most recognisable motif in New Zealand art, and has also had an influence on the design of many corporate, government and NGO logos in New Zealand.
Walters consistently explored the rhythmic, spatial and optical possibilities of this motif from the end of the 1950s onward. As a young boy, Walters spent hours studying the Polynesian collection of what was then Wellington’s Dominion Museum. The inspiration for his unique style probably originated in his friendship with the Indo-Dutch émigré artist Theo Schoon in the 1940s. Schoon was obsessed with the notion of reinvigorating what he saw as the stagnating traditional Māori arts by infusing them with the design principles of the German Bauhaus school. However, there is nothing to suggest that Walters had any such radical project in mind when he went to Europe in 1950, where he was drawn to the work of geometric modernists Capogrossi, Mondrian, Vasarely and Auguste Herbin, all of whom had an influence on his later works.