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Ralph Hotere

Hone Papita Raukura "Ralph" Hotere, ONZ

Hone Papita Raukura "Ralph" Hotere ONZ (11 August 1931 &– 24 February 2013) was a New Zealand artist of Māori descent (Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa). He was born in Mitimiti, Northland and is widely regarded as one of New Zealand's most important artists. In 1994 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Otago and in 2003 received an Icon Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.

In the 2012 New Year Honours, Hotere was appointed to the Order of New Zealand for services to New Zealand.

Hotere was born in Mitimiti, close to the Hokianga Harbour in the Northland Region, one of 15 children. He received his secondary education at Hato Petera College, Auckland, where he studied from 1946 to 1949. After early art training at Auckland Teachers' Training College under the tutelage of J. D. Charlton Edgar, he moved to Dunedin in 1952, where he studied at Dunedin School of Art, part of King Edward Technical College. During the later 1950s, he worked as a schools art advisor for the Education Department in the Bay of Islands.

In 1961 Hotere gained a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship and travelled to England where he studied at the Central School of Art and Design in London. During 1962–1964 he studied in France and travelled around Europe, during which time he witnessed the development of the Pop Art and Op Art movements. His travels took him, among other places, to the war cemetery in Italy where his brother was buried. This event, and the politics of Europe during the 1960s, had a profound effect on Hotere’s work, notably in the Sangro and Polaris series of paintings.

Hotere returned to New Zealand and exhibited in Dunedin in 1965, and returned to the city in 1969 when he became the University of Otago's Frances Hodgkins Fellow. At about that time he began to introduce literary elements to his work. He worked with poets such as Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire to produce several strong paintings, and produced other works specifically for the New Zealand literary journal Landfall. Hotere also worked in collaboration with other prominent artists, notably Bill Culbert.

From the 1970s onward, Hotere was noted for his use of unusual tools and materials in creating his work, notably the use of power tools on corrugated iron and steel within the context of two-dimensional art.

From 1968, Hotere began the series of works with which he is perhaps best known, the Black Paintings. In these works, black is used almost exclusively. In some works, strips of colour are placed against stark black backgrounds in a style reminiscent of Barnett Newman. In other black paintings, stark simple crosses appear in the gloom, black on black. Though minimalist, the works, as with those of most good abstractionists, have a redolent poetry of their own. The simple markings speak of transcendence, of religion, or peace.

The themes of the black paintings extended to later works, notably the colossal Black Phoenix (1984–88), constructed out of the burnt remains of a fishing boat. This major installation incorporates the prow of the boat flanked by burnt planks of wood. Other planks form a pathway leading the prow. Each plank has had a strip laid bare to reveal the natural wood underneath beneath. Several of the boards are inscribed with a traditional Maori proverb, Ka hinga atu he tete-kura haramai he tete-kura ("As one fern frond (person) dies - one is born to take its place"). A slight change has been made in the wording of the proverb, replacing haramai (transfer, pass over) to ara mai (the path forward), possibly indicating the cleared pathway of bare wood in front of the boat's burnt prow. The work measures 5m by 13m by 5.5m.

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Ralph Hotere Artworks
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