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John Walsh was born in Tolaga Bay in 1954 and attended Canterbury University's Ilam School of Fine Art between 1973-74. After his first solo exhibition held when he was almost 40 (hisearlier works having been exhibited mainly around his home territory of Gisborne and the East Coast region of New Zealand), John Walsh quickly made a name for himself and now exhibits annually in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Mainly self-taught, Walsh's earliest works took the form of realist portraits of people he knew on the East Coast, executed inthe hours when he was not working in various casual, seasonal employments. In 1989, Walsh was invited to participate in an international mural project in New York and after returning to NZ, worked in a number of tertiary institutions.
In 1993, he moved with his family to Wellington to an appointment as curator of contemporary Maori art at the NationalArt Gallery (now Te Papa) and it was around this time that hearrived at the artistic style for which he is so well-known now. The first such paintings tended to be small and painted on washbackgrounds but as the scale of the works increased, Walshintroduced landscape to the imagery.
Some works re-present myths from Maoridom while othersdepict contemporary incidents he has observed in the newspapers orpersonally. The protagonists in Walsh's paintings are of tendepicted with human bodies and faces of ancestral tikis or manaia (helpers and bringers of knowledge) or as marahikau (mermen). Hiswork is typified by a gentle humour, and a playful interpretation of circumstances.