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Ralph Hotere

One of New Zealand's most important artists, Ralph Hotere was renowned for his minimalist Black Paintings, in which he used the colour black almost exclusively. Hotere's minimalism extended to discussions of his art. "There are few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing," he once said.

One of New Zealand’s most important artists, Ralph Hotere (1931 - 2013) was renowned for his minimalist Black Paintings, in which he used the colour black almost exclusively.

Ralph Hotere

Tributes to an exceptional talent

The Maori artist was born Hone Papita Raukura Hotere in Mitimiti, just north of Hokianga Harbour. One of 15 siblings, Hotere attended Hato Petera College and Auckland Teachers College before moving to Dunedin in 1952 to study art at the former King Edward Technical College. In 1961 he won a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship to study at the Central School of Art in London. The city’s burgeoning pop art movement would greatly influence Hotere’s later work.

Ralph Hotere Dawn/Water Poem

Dawn/Water Poem

After returning to New Zealand in 1965, Hotere had two breakthrough solo exhibitions: Sangro Series and Human Rights in 1965 and Black Paintings in 1968. His Sangro series was a memorial to his brother, Private Jack Hotere, who was killed in action near Italy’s Sangro River in 1943.

Ralph Hotere Requiem


The minimalism and political themes of the black paintings extended to later works including Black Rainbow (protesting the 1985 sinking of the Rainbow Warrior) and the colossal Black Phoenix (1984–88), constructed out of the burnt remains of a fishing boat. Hotere’s Black Union Jack works questioned New Zealand’s involvement with South Africa in the era of apartheid. As the Christchurch Art Gallery noted in 2013, “Many New Zealand artists lent their voices and images to [the anti-apartheid] cause,” and “the artist whose work is most closely associated with the anti-apartheid movement [in NZ] is Ralph Hotere.”

Ralph Hotere Black Painting

Black Painting

Hotere always preferred to let his art speak for itself, reported the NZ Herald after his death: "There are few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing." If there was talking to be done, he often let his siblings do it for him, sister Charlotte Courtenay told the NZ Herald in 2013. "Ralph didn't like too much of a fuss. When he had exhibitions he'd let us talk about the paintings and we'd turn around and he used to stand there nodding his head because he said abstract is really what you make of it."

Ralph Hotere

Haere ra Ralph - 'Warrior artist' Hotere dies

Before his death in February 2013, Ralph Hotere received many awards and honours, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Otago. In 2012 Hotere topped the list of New Year Honours and for his services to New Zealand was made a Member of the Order of NZ, the country’s highest honour.

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