Len Lye, Gordon Walters

11 Apr – 13 May 2023

1301SW presents an exhibition of paintings, sculpture and video works by Len Lye and Gordon Walters, two of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most revered artists. 

The exhibition brings together two distinct yet kindred approaches to artmaking. Renowned for their abstract and material innovation of the Modernist era, each drew from an eclectic combination of local and international forms and ideas. Both artists shared a fascination with the world they inhabited, seeing each travelling and exhibiting extensively, and leaving a lasting impact internationally – especially in Great Britain and North America. Looking deeply at cultural traditions and the natural environment, much of Lye and Walters’ work references moments found in nature, reinterpreting and expressing its motifs and “energy”.  For Lye, he wanted to visualise or “personify” the liveliness of nature, such as thunder, lightning, and atomic particles, while nature was represented in Walter’s famed rendition of the Koru and the ever-present horizon lines of his abstract landscapes.

For Walters this use of nature is pitched firmly against his concise geometric abstraction, in which pure shape and untextured brushwork translates natural form into a purely abstract language. Limited in colour, Walters’ refined geometry expresses a surface tension as the shapes combat each other for pictorial dominance. The viewer’s gaze is hypnotised, as neutral tones couple with contrast, creating a pictorial dynamism of rich energy and pulsating visual rhythm.

Equally dedicated to compositional movement, Lye’s experimental films and sculptures are optically charged, evoking dance, colour, light and sound. Lye’s idiosyncratic experimental film technique of hand painted film strips paired with rhythmic jazz music produces a playful synthesis as colour and form swarm and flash across the screen. Similarly dancing, his ‘tangible motion sculptures’ — like his Fountain works of the 1960s and 70s — emphasise vibration as the plume of steel rods challenge the perception of figure and ground, slowly shimmering, filtering the surrounding light. 

This is the first two-person exhibition of these two towering figures, and we are grateful to the Gordon Walters Estate, the Len Lye Foundation and STARKWHITE in helping facilitate this exhibition.