Ralph Hotere | BIO < back to artists

Ralph Hotere

b. 1931

Ralph Hotere was born of Maori heritage (Aupouri tribe) in Taikarawa, Mitimiti, in Northland. He first trained as a specialist art educator and then at King Edward Technical College, Dunedin under Gordon Tovey. From 1953 - 1960 he worked as a schools art advisor for the Education Department. In 1961 he was awarded a scholarship and studied at the Central School of Art in London. This was followed in 1962 by the receipt of the Karolyi International Fellowship for study in Vence, in the South of France. Between 1963-4 he travelled and painted around Europe. During this time he visited the Sangro River war cemetery in Italy where his brother and fellow service men from the Maori Battalion killed in WWII, were buried. The experience of this pilgrimage resulted in his Sangro Series of 1962-64. Europe at this time was plagued with political upheaval - the Cuban Crises and Algerian troubles in France. His interest and concern with these events saw the beginning of the first of many series of works relating to political issues and events both worldwide and within New Zealand. The Polaris series relating to the nuclear warhead Polaris, and the Algerie series are among them.

Hotere returned to New Zealand in 1965, and settled in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. He was the Frances Hodgkins fellow in Dunedin in 1969. It was during this period in the late 1960's that he first began his 'Black Paintings', a series which has continued to develop throughout his career. These ranged from starkly minimal cruciforms on canvas to finely drawn lines in enamel lacquer on board. His use of the colour black has come to be one of the characteristics for which Hotere is most well known.

Along with his Black paintings, Hotere has continued to make works in relation to political and social issues important to him, including the Aramoana series protesting against the proposed aluminum smelter in Port Chalmers, in the 1980's. These two elements of Hotere's practice come together in his poetic rather than explanatory titling of the series Black Union Jack and Black Rainbow, (relating to the controversial tour of New Zealand by the South African rugby team in 1981 and the sinking of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 respectively),and extends through to more recent exhibitions 'Black Light' and 'Out the Black Window'.

Hotere has worked in collaboration not only with other artists (most notably Bill Culbert), but also with many of our well-known poets.

Word Paintings

Hotere began using words as part of his imagery in the early 1960s. His word paintings document both artistic and personal dialogue between himself and his friends who are some of New Zealand's preeminent literary figures.
Paying homage to poets Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare and his wife of many years - Cilla McQueen, these works offer visual equivalents to their poems, the words of which are often incorporated into Hotere's compositions. The texts he quotes often also allude to the personal experiences and emotional states that the artist was in when he painted them.

Hotere is now recognised as New Zealand's most significant living artist. His works are becoming increasingly sought after by art collectors. His prices have continued to increase dramatically in the last three years, creating a strong market and increasingly his art is purchased as an investment.