11 March 2023

Braidwood artist honoured after his work selected for national collection

| Sally Hopman
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Man painting

Braidwood artist John R. Walker paints the outline of his work Vathiwarta in Oratunga in the Northern Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Photo: Anne Sanders.

The nation’s leading art collector, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has just acquired a major work by Braidwood artist John R. Walker.

The work, Eagle Spirit, Vathiwarta, was in the artist’s recent exhibition, Deep Time Painting, shown at Utopia Art Sydney.

His works have been collected and shown by some of the world’s leading galleries as well as being housed in top private collections.

Speaking about the acquisition, Walker said he was very pleased and hoped that the piece would go on exhibition so more people could see it.

“I would love it if more people could see it,” he said. “Most of my work is in private houses, but there’s nothing quite like seeing one of your works in a big public venue.”

This idea of art connecting with its audience inspires the artist, who has been working for almost three decades and is particularly known for his large landscape works.

Living and working in Braidwood provides great inspiration, with much of his art defining the landscape of that region, but it is far from limited to that small community, about 75 minutes from Canberra.

READ ALSO For Braidwood’s John Walker, home is where the art is

The work acquired by the NGA, and many of the pieces in his most recent exhibition in Sydney, were inspired by the most ancient of lands – in particular the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the Oratunga Homestead where he and his wife, art curator Anne Sanders, have been visiting since 2016.

Something about the place, known as Adnyamathanha, or Rock People Country, hit the right note with the artist. Up on a ridge near the homestead, the massif, Patawarta (Vathiwarta) can be seen, which Hans Heysen painted during the late 1920s drought.

“During our most recent stay, we got to know a local Adnyamathanha artist, Kristian Coulthard,” Walker said. “After I finished my painting I couldn’t think of the right title, so I asked Kristian.

“He explained that the story of Patawarta (or Vathiawarta) is connected to the sacred eagle, Wildu.

“And so the title became Eagle spirit, Vathiwarta.”

Again, the artist’s interpretation of connecting came to the fore.

“That’s how I like to work,” he said. “It is so important to connect with something … it can be like dancing or even love, that connection when you want to spend the rest of your life with something.”

Abstract painting

Eagle Spirit Vathiwarta by John R.Walker has just been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. The vast work, two metres by three metres, was inspired by the ancient land that is South Australia’s Northern Flinders Ranges. Photo: Supplied.

“I’m like a sponge, although I hope I’m a bit more intelligent than a sponge,” he joked.

Eagle spirit, Vathiwarta is a vast artwork, measuring about two metres by three metres. The artist is known for favouring such large pieces, with his preferred technique for painting to work on the canvas on the floor. He then hangs it up on a wall to dry.

“The whole process starts when I see something I like,” he said.

“I’ll look at it and then go back to the studio and then I’ll go back to what I saw in the first place again. It can be a bit like fishing – and connecting with that. It could be a hum, or a rhythm or some kind of movement – something that catches you in a moment.”

Walker’s next exhibition will be at the Orange Regional Art Gallery, from 4 November 2023 to 14 January 2024.

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