Tribute: Ralph Hotere

Ralph Hotere, taken at the Arts Foundation's inaugural Laureate Awards, Auckland, 2000.
Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri), one of New Zealand’s most important contemporary artists, has passed away. Add your tributes.


Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri), one of New Zealand’s most important contemporary artists, has passed away.  Hotere was a painter, sculptor and collaborative artist with a career spanning more than five decades. His work is represented in major public and private collections in NZ and internationally.

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Tributes have flowed for Hotere, who died peacefully in Dunedin on Sunday February 24, aged 81.

Creative New Zealand Arts Council chair Alastair Carruthers said Hotere was "one of the country’s most significant contemporary artists and an influential figure in our cultural history."

“Hotere’s art is in collections throughout the world, a testament to his distinctive and potent vision.’’

Art commentator Hamish Keith said on twitter that Hotere was a truly great artist, one of our greatest, and like Colin McCahon a bridge across two powerful rivers.

“And it should be said of Ralph Hotere that he was a great warrior artist and he fought with his art for great causes”.

He told Radio NZ that Hotere helped New Zealand art find its voice. Listen to more on Morning Report.

Prime Minister John Key said Hotere was one of only a handful of New Zealanders to be granted the country’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, awarded in the 2012 New Years Honours list.

“His passing will be deeply mourned by the New Zealand artistic community in particular,” says Mr Key.

“I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Hotere.”

In a tribute to Hotere, City Gallery Wellington director Elizabeth Caldwell talked about appreciating Fault, the very intelligent, subtle and beautiful neon artwork that was inserted into the facade of the building in 1994.

"Today, as I gazed at Fault, it is with sadness at yesterday’s news of Ralph Hotere’s death, but I am also aware of how fortunate I feel to have this work to look at everyday to remember him by and I am filled with warm memories of the last few times I saw him in Dunedin.."

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Hotere Biography – The Arts Foundation NZ

One of eleven children, Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere was born in Mitimiti, Northland, in 1931. He was educated at Hato Petera College and Auckland Teachers' College, before moving to Dunedin in 1952 to specialise in art.

After a spell in the Bay of Islands as an arts advisor for the Education Department, Ralph was awarded a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship to study in London at the Central School of Art in 1961. His time in England proved to be pivotal to his development as an artist. With the art world caught in a wave of general upheaval, which witnessed the advent of Pop Art and, subsequently, Op Art, Hotere found himself both influenced by the new movements and, as an outsider from New Zealand, at enough of a critical distance from what was new andtrendy in British art to develop his own distinctive style.

Returning to New Zealand in 1965, he began to focus exclusively on his artistic career. Before being awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship and moving to Dunedin permanently in 1969, Ralph had two important solo exhibitions in Auckland: Sangro Paintings and Human Rights (1965) and Black Paintings (1968).

During the same period he also struck up a relationship with the New Zealand literary world, publishing four drawings in Landfall 78 and designing the cover for Landfall 84, which was to come to full fruition in subsequent years in collaborative works with New Zealand poets.

In 1979, he used his friend Hone Tuwhare's well-known poem Rain to produce Three Banners with Poem, for the Hocken Library. The public appeal of this, and similar works is tremendous: the 1997 exhibition paying tribute to such collaborations, Out the Black Window, opened at the City Gallery in Wellington to an impressive 1200 visitors on the first day.

In 1994 Ralph received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago.  He received one of the ten inaugural Icon Awards from the Arts Foundation in 2003 and in 2006 he was awarded Te Taumata Award by Te Waka Toi recognising outstanding leadership and service to Maori arts. He was awarded New Zealand's highest honour -  the membership of the Order of New Zealand -  in the New Year Honours 2012.

Ralph Hotere's work is represented in every major public and private collection in New Zealand and in art museums throughout the world.

For much of his life Ralph Hotere lived in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. 

He is survived by his wife Mary McFarlane.

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NZ On Screen: Watch this short film on Ralph Hotere (1974)

A 1974 documentary exploring the work of Ralph Hotere, now arguably New Zealand's greatest living artist. Directed by Sam Pillsbury, the film is framed around the execution of a large mural Hotere was commissioned to paint for the Founders Theatre in Hamilton. Interviews with friends and associates: poets Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire, art critics, officials and dealers (Gordon Brown, Barry Lett, Rodney Kirk Smith, John Scott) are intercut with fascinating shots of Hotere working, including making art by photocopying (then called 'xerography').

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

25 Feb 2013

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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