24 Feb 2013

Artist Ralph Hotere dies

7:03 pm on 24 February 2013

Renowned artist, Ralph Hotere, has died in Dunedin at the age of 81.

Once described as one of the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated artists yet produced by New Zealand, Mr Hotere had been in poor health since suffering a stroke in 2001.

He was the first artist of Maori descent to be written into a history of New Zealand art and was appointed to the Order of New Zealand in 2011.

Last year one of Mr Hotere's paintings, Vive Aramoana, sold for $183,000.

One of 11 children Ralph Hotere was born into a small Maori Catholic community at Mitimiti in Northland, and had a tribal affiliation to Aupouri.

He was educated at Hato Petera (St Peter's College) in Auckland and then at Auckland Teachers' College.

In 1952, after deciding to specialise in teaching art, he moved to Dunedin to study under Gordon Tovey at King Edward Technical College. Mr Hotere held his first exhibition that year, at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

After graduating he worked for the next seven years as an arts advisor for the Education Department. In 1961 he was awarded a New Zealand Arts Societies Fellowship and travelled to London to study at the Central School of Art there.

He was also given a Karolyi International Fellowship which enabled him to study in Paris and to travel extensively in Europe.

At the time, the art world was in upheaval with the advent of Pop Art and subsequently Op Art and Ralph Hotere was influenced by both movements while still developing his own distinctive style.

He came back to Auckland in 1965, eventually returning to Dunedin when he became the Frances Hodgkins Fellow at Otago University and settling at Port Chalmers where he spent the rest of his life.

Ralph Hotere was well-known for his use of black since his "Black" paintings of the 1960s, in which he used a variety of methods to give the work depth and sheen.

Never afraid to comment on current affairs in his work, his Aramoana series expressed his strong opposition to plans to use the Aramoana wetlands for an aluminium smelter while "Black Warrior" commented on the 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.

He rarely talked about his work, preferring to let it speak for itself.

He was given an honorary doctorate by Otago University in 1994 and in 2003 he was named one of the Living Icons of New Zealand Arts.

The following year Te Waka Toi, the Maori Arts Board of Creative New Zealand, presented him with Te Taumata, an award to honour achievement in arts and culture.

He is survived by his wife Mary McFarlane.