• John Walsh

John Walsh (b.1954, Aitanga a Hauiti / New Zealand Irish) grew up in Uawa Tolaga Bay and now lives on the south coast of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, where the rugged shoreline ceaselessly draws him back to the canvas to meld histories of migration and colonialism with mātauranga Māori and contemporary narratives.

Walsh’s Māori and Irish ancestry intuitively coalesce within his painting practice, “I absorb it all, I reinterpret all of it”, he says. “I don’t go into a painting with a set idea. I start moving paint around and the whole thing is an adventure. I mean, that’s enough to keep you going isn’t it?” Walsh allows the paint – its texture and weight – and his mark-making to lead him. “It’s absolute freedom […] The whole thing is a growing, evolving process.”

The artist characteristically depicts ethereal landscapes, coastlines, and dense bush populated by a cast of anthropomorphic creatures and obscure figures, delicately rendered in a vibrant and fluid application of paint. Earthly characters convene with spirits or messengers, seemingly captured in anticipation or aftermath of some unspecified event or conflict. Boats drift gently across the surface of the water or above the land, as if propelled by unseen forces. Some works are heavy with allegory or appear as harbingers foretelling the destruction of our natural environment. Many paintings address the particularly devastating impact of intensive mono-culture pine forestry upon the once idyllic landscape of the East Coast. “Uawa is my home, my mother. My art, landscapes, stories, sensibility, come from roaming these hills, fishing, surfing this coastline. All the micro-environments of eels, whitebait, birds, worms, all obliterated by this profit above all else pine industry.”

Walsh attended Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury for a period and early works saw him create realist portraits of friends and whānau on the East Coast. Following a year spent working on a deep-sea Japanese trawler, Walsh participated in a project in New York in 1989 and upon his return to Aotearoa began working as Exhibitions Officer at the Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre, before eventually relocating to Wellington for the role of Curator of Contemporary Māori Art at the National Art Gallery / Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. He has exhibited widely and The New Zealand Portrait Gallery, The Dowse Art Museum, and Pātaka Art + Museum have all held significant survey exhibitions of his work. Walsh has travelled to China on various residency programmes; Antarctica as a Creative New Zealand /Antarctica New Zealand's artist-in-residence; and to Gallipoli alongside other New Zealand and Australian artists to produce work toward the exhibition Your Friend the Enemy.

Opening Hours

  • Tuesday - Friday 10am-5pm
  • Saturday 10am-4pm


  • 42 Victoria Street
  • Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington, 6011