John Walsh

Ngāti Porou

1954 - 1995

He was born at Tolaga Bay and educated at Gisborne Boys’ High. He attended the School of Fine Arts, University of Canterbury from From 1982-86 he worked on restoration and new art work at Hauiti Marae, Tolaga Bay, Anaura, Tokomaru Bay, Whangara, Rongopai and Waihirere. Between 1984 and 1986 he was a member of Waiapu Community Arts Council and in 1986 became a tutor at Tairawhiti Polytechnic. In 1977 he won the BNZ Portrait Award and in 1987 won the Royal Overseas League Art Award. In 1990 he was invited to New York to participate in an international mural project depicting heroes and rebels from many nations. He has been employed as exhibitions officer at Gisborne Museum and Arts Centre and has chaired the Tairawhiti branch of Nga Puna Waihanga. He was co-convenor of Te Puawaitanga Manuka Arts Inc. He has exhibited with Nga Puna Waihanga, the National Academy (as an Artist Member) and Gisborne Artists’ Society since 1977. He is represented by Janne Land Gallery in Wellington and Archill Gallery in Auckland. He is currently working at Te Papa in Wellington.

Biographical sources

  • Interview with Walsh at Nga Puna Waihanga Hui at Parihaka in 1994.
  • Phone interview and email correspondence with Walsh on 13 and 25 March 1998.


  • Māori Art: Where Is It Going And Who Is Taking It - Who Decides? Inverlochy House Winter Lecture Ser. 1995.
  • This paper was presented in the Inverlochy House Winter Lecture Series in 1995 and at the Māori Arts Conference at Massey University in 1996. Walsh discusses the role and performance of Māori arts organisations and discusses some of the issues in Māori art today. He acknowledges the difficulty of defining Māori art, noting the view (which Walsh calls the educational or propaganda view) that states that Māori art is that which supports or presents ‘the Māori world view’. He maintains that arts administrators use the arts to promote ‘philosophical view points and propaganda’ and he maintains that since the 1950s the history of Māori ‘is full of subtle philosophical and power struggles relating to who and what represents Māori - what is best for Māori.’ He maintians that there has developed an identifable imagery of Māori art which is based on the historical models of Māori taonga. But he asserts that creativity is at the heart of these traditional treasures. He notes two strands in Māori art: keeping the fires strong in the kainga and maintaining the lore and tradition versus extending boundaries. He notes that art administrators have the dilemma of which strand to support and have traditionally supported the first of the two, which Walsh considers natural when Māori are living in a minority where those who are explore new boundaries are penalised. Walsh argues that ‘the aggressive exploration of the unknown, from our earliest beginnings, is what has made and sustained the culture.’ He contends that the Māori bureaucratic preoccupation with maintianing the status quo is ‘stifling, perpetuating a defensive, backward looking and humourless cultural face.’ Walsh argues that resource for Māori arts organizations should place greater emphasis on the explorative. He concludes by asking ‘where is the encouragement for the Māori wild cards, visionaries, the satirists, and dreamers? Māori art can and should be whatever its artists want.’


  • "Te Whiu Maitai." John Walsh, Kupere Sanders and Cushla Parekowhai. The Book of New Zealand Women - Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa. Ed. Charlotte Macdonald, Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams. Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams, 1991. 403-407.
  • Kupere Sanders, one of Te Whiu Matai’s whangai, reminisces about the life of Matai to John Walsh. She speaks of Matai’s arranged marriage, of receiving her moko from the hand of an old chief, and of her prowess in bush medicine. Other areas discussed in this biography are Marai’s success in gardening, her methods of food preservation and her love of smoking and drinking which sometimes drew criticism from church members.