More of John Walsh’s works can be found on his Artsy website
Last weekend I went to Pataka Art gallery and Museum where there is an exhibition of John Walsh’s work showing from the 19 June until 18 September.
I hadn’t intended to see his work, but had decided, while I was at the Library, to stop in and have a look at what was on show currently. Prior to this, I had never seen John Walsh’s art, not even in a book. I was impressed with the work, and I am hugely glad that the first time I saw his work was in person, because the pictures I have seen since this exhibition of his work, do not do it justice.
His work literally glows with vibrancy. There is a high contrast to the colours he uses. The dark blacks (none of this “black should never be used in an artwork” business for Walsh), and then the bright whites, but also the almost neon blues and purples through his work. His work literally glows with almost a throbbing light. Just like a colour film noir movie set in Las Vegas or Tokyo.
Highly realistic and detailed images combined with this unrealistic lighting and colouring. Even the characters in his works seem sickly with the use of yellow and green skin tones. Often the least sickly looking characters in his images are the spirits floating above the land.
His work talks about myths and legends of New Zealand but not any that I have heard. So for me his works are very difficult to understand the stories behind the images. I have since read some information about his work, and it says that he uses characters and icons of myths and legends but then uses them to create new myths and legends based around contemporary reality, often working from his own fears, thoughts, aspirations, and dreams. Though this is what has been said about his work, there is a feeling of a representation of a collective fear, insecurities, aspiration, and dreams. Like his works speaks for all from a deeply personal experience.
For me Walsh’s work, while enchanting, requires reading to really understand. It is the sort of work that is hard to relate to on an intellectual basis, unless you do some research; like it is a starting point for further understanding. I did find that there was a certain feeling of connection with these artworks. But it was like the connection comes from some spiritual level. Not that I necessarily believe in the same god/s as Walsh, but more that because we are of the same earth, we have the same fears as each other and can therefore relate to each other, and relate to the land.
What is interesting about the works is that although the images of the land are not true representations of actual places, they do feel somehow familiar. I do wonder though how familiar they would feel to someone from say Egypt, where the land looks very different to in New Zealand.
Walsh’s works are striking and yet very difficult. Well worth a look for this man’s talent, and for the strange feeling that it gives you, I still haven’t quite put my finger on it. I feel Walsh’s art still needs some refining in terms of the messages, but then again clarity of meaning isn’t necessarily the objective of all artworks.
I can’t stop loving you to me reads as a feeling of loss of connection. To each other and to the land. The part humans part birds (Angels?) are only in the trees, and looking down on two islands, separate and isolated from one another, and ‘jailed’ by the trees that they are stuck in. The islands seem to each be burning at the heart of them, they remind me of images of war where there is burning from bombs or riots, and they certainly have a feeling of distress, and that unexplainable feeling of desperation and yearning when you are completely powerless. The female angel-like figures in the trees are calling out, singing to what seems to be the land. The way the front angel-girl is leaning forward and straining through her neck implies almost an outpouring of herself to the land. There is nothing flowing from her that we can see, but there is a feeling that something of her is being projected out from her. The boy next to them stands on the same branch (possibly symbolizing the joint desires of all the people on the branch despite their different ages, perspectives, and reactions) he peers down not to the islands, and not quite at the other person in the lower branches, he seems to be looking at something right below him, but not quite under him, like he has spied something that is coming and he looks worried and shocked, ‘we have done something to save ourselves and yet it still follows us’ Perhaps speaking about our abuse of the land and the way that now that we have realized the destruction we have caused and we are desperately trying to do what we can to save the land, and more importantly ourselves, the damage we have already done is going to continue and eventually will get to us. The third man, the wizened old ancestor (?) stands looking at the destruction coming and yet turning away from it, almost like ‘I told you so, you got yourself into this mess, now you sort it yourself’. The strip of red flowing from his ears almost seems to be him being called away, the red comes from the ear in the direction the he appears to be turning. And then, curiously, the old ‘ancestor’ is wearing the contemporary clothing, where the other characters wear clothes that appear to be from an earlier time. Could this be the artist placing blame on the older groups for the devastation they have caused when they had the run of the land? The destruction they have left for the younger groups to clean up and deal with? Perhaps the bird flying from the ancestor (who clearly doesn’t really care to help out with the tragedy the younger groups are faced with) is his soul, the true him flying out as an apology, ‘I’m sorry. I want to help but there is nothing you can do. You are alone.’
I’m not going to comment fully on this artwork. But I wanted to put it here to show you, because it captured me at the gallery. I couldn’t look away.
I had no idea what this meant at all, and this one has a HUGE title! This one really has stumped me. I really can only find meaning in its title and can only assume that the title relates to meaning of the work. So from the title I would assume that meaning is talking about the connection of lands through people. With the advent of international trade, international travel, and immigrations, emigrations we are getting multi-cultural communities, but we are also getting more threats from other people, and terrorist events. The title says to me that although people come and they might not be friendly we shouldn’t meet them with hate, we should meet them with love, and they should meet us with love too. Let your demon go – come to our land, be with us, but be at peace while you are here. You can catch him again later – It might have worked in your country to be on edge, to be tough and harsh, but while you are here, be at peace, and be that tough person again if/ when you leave.
Please do comment, and let me know your thoughts on this one. It really has stumped me, but also captured me.
The title clearly relates to Walsh’s feeling of waste following the flag referendum recently. What a waste he says. You have done this hugely expensive thing, with no outcome, trying to portray our country in a new way – but our country is still just the same. A flag is not going to make our country look any different that it already is, and that money has been wasted. But then you look under the flag and you see what is a green but barren wasteland… You want to portray us a clean, green unspoiled – but we have been spoilt, we are not what we were and there should be no faking what we are now.
And then another one. Relating to the same subject of the wasted money on the flag referendum. With the same meaning, but this time showing what they could have used that money for, but instead it was wasted. Then curiously the flag is not your usual rectangle shape, but a triangle, perhaps symbolizing something like a play button a moving forward, an opportunity that has been missed.