John Walsh (b.1954, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti / Irish) grew up in Uawa Tolaga Bay, on the East Coast of the North Island, and now lives and paints on the South Coast of Te-Whanganui-a-Tara.
Walsh melds histories of migration and colonialism with contemporary narratives and mythologies in a vivid and fluid application of paint. His work depicts ethereal landscapes populated by marakihau and anthropomorphic creatures alongside a cast of figures, spirits, and messengers.
Increasingly, Walsh directly addresses issues of climate change and the destruction of our natural environment, with particular attention given to the devastation resulting from intensive monoculture pine forestry at Uawa. His large text-based works make impassioned pleas to forestry companies to look at their practices and the damage they are causing both to the environment and community, and a desperate appeal to government and council to examine legislation. Several works depict the scale of the destruction with rolling landscapes of slash; the piles of felled timber and forestry debris that eventually wash downstream; gouging soil and habitats of whitebait, eels, and birds; and then out to sea smothering fisheries, before rolling back in on the tide to litter the beaches. As counter to these works, When her health is our health (2022) portrays an idealised landscape, a utopian view where dappled light plays through the canopy overhead and the eye follows tendrils of bush covered hills that reach down and out to a bright blue expanse of water.
Walsh attended Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury and early works saw him create realist portraits of friends and whānau on the East Coast. In 1989 Walsh participated in a project in New York and upon his return to Aotearoa began working in tertiary institutions, 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.
The New Zealand Portrait Gallery, The Dowse Art Museum, and Pātaka Art + Museum have all held significant survey exhibitions of the artist’s 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 several other New Zealand and Australian artists to produce work for the touring exhibition Your Friend the Enemy.