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Wesley (Wes) WALTERS (b.1928; d.2014)

Wesley (Wes) Walters was born in Mildura, Victoria in 1928. His family moved to Ballarat when he was six months old and he was educated at Ballarat High School where he shone at sport, being an outstanding runner as well as excelling at rowing and football. After finishing school, Walters studied architecture at the Gordon Institute in Geelong but quickly tired of it. He said: “My mother was thrilled but I only lasted 18 months. It was boring. Just building bigger boxes for less money.” * Walters returned to Ballarat to study art at the Ballarat School of Mines from 1947 to 1948 but his studies were cut short by a freak accident. He had joined the School of Mines football team and, during a game, he was hit on the head by the ball and later collapsed in the bus with a cerebral haemorrhage and was unconscious for three days. He never returned to his studies. *

Walters moved to Melbourne in 1948 after a friend of his father’s got him a job as a trainee illustrator in the art department at George Patterson advertising agency. ** Walters studied life drawing at night classes at the Victoria Artists’ Society and taught himself anatomy. *** Walters said: “I tell people I'm self-taught, which is true, but I learnt a lot from the paintings in the Ballarat Art Gallery. Especially Harold Herbert. He was the first to use Chinese white in watercolour.” *

In 1950, Walters embarked on a successful career as a freelance commercial artist and graphic designer. Some of Walters’ renowned advertising campaigns included creating the original artwork for the famous Chiko roll motorcycle girl advertising campaign of 1955, once seen in every fish and chip shop in Australia, as well as illustrations for advertising for Holden cars.

In the 1970s, Walters moved away from full time advertising work to concentrate on painting. ** He was an abstract expressionist artist and also a landscapist, as well as a sculptor and printmaker. However, gradually, he developed a specialisation in portraiture, undertaking many commissions, including Arthur Boyd, Senator Neville Bonner, Sir Donald Bradman and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. **** He painted nearly 200 portraits of leading Australians, including academics, businessmen, artists and musicians. ***

Walters’s multi-disciplinary approach to art included performance art and he is fondly remembered locally in Mildura for his iconic performance art piece of Reg Etherington, when he painted a live portrait of him on stage in 1977. *****

Walters continued to enjoy sport through his life and was a star golfer off a handicap of one and club champion at Woodlands Golf Club in 1971. He was married to Judith, a renowned dressmaker, and had two children.

Walters died on 19 August 2014. He is remembered as a creative, emotional and sensitive man.

In the 1970s Walters held solo shows of landscapes and photorealist nudes. ** However, Walters did not hold an exhibition of his non-figurative, abstract style works until 2001. **** A survey exhibition of his work was held at Horsham Regional Art Gallery in 2001 and retrospective exhibitions were held at the Mossgreen Gallery in Melbourne in 2009, the Post Office Gallery at the University of Ballarat in 2012 and the Mildura Arts Centre in 2018. In 2009 the book ‘Walters: art of realism & abstraction’ by David Thomas was published.

Walters won numerous art prizes including the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s Minnie Crouch Prize for watercolour art in 1953 and 1956 ***, the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists' Association's Award of Distinctive Merit in 1963 and the Archibald Prize in 1979 for his portrait of Philip Adams. He was a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 1998 and 1990. In 1993, he was inducted into the Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. **

When Walters won the Archibald Prize in 1979 for his portrait of Phillip Adams, Adams correctly predicted that the ‘arties’ would be furious because of Walters's background in commercial art. Walters himself said: “My main objective as a portrait painter is to paint as well as my hero, Velasquez, in my estimation by far the world's greatest portraitist. I feel this is unlikely to be brought to fruition, although sometimes there are instances when I feel I get a little closer”. **

Walters’s successful and broad artistic career spanned over 60 years across a myriad of styles, techniques and approaches. In the post war era in Australia, Walters defied the linearity of the specialist stance that most Australian artists took up, revelling instead in manifesting visual and artistic ideas in whatever discipline he decided would best articulate them. In so doing, Walters’ diverse modes of creative expression may be seen as a precursor to the multi disciplinary practice currently defining the approach of countless contemporary artists. ******

Walters has been said to have had a “unique approach to creative processes and … [an] unorthodox yet logical practice”. ******

Walters’s works are represented in Collections across Australia, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Portrait Gallery and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia.

* A brush with life from all walks, Lawrence Money, The Age, 2 June 2009 ** Wes Walters, Biography, National Portrait Gallery, Updated 2018 *** Talented Ballarat artist, Archibald Prize winner, dies at 86, Melissa Cunningham, The Courier, 26 August 2014 **** Wes Walters, Biography, Honour Roll, Federation University, researched by David Thomas, February 2006, and updated by Clare Gervasoni, August 2014 ***** MAC to host an exhibition of Australian art icon Wes Walters, Mildura Rural City Council, 3 December 2018 ****** Wes Walters: the art of the pre-cursor, Arts Mildura, 2018


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