71 | Ralph Hotere - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

71 | Ralph Hotere - Greatest Kiwi of All Time 2023

Greatest Kiwi Of All Time: No. 71 - Ralph Hotere (Down 48 from 23 last year)

His work, unmistakable.  His passion, immeasurable.  His politics, immovable.  One of the greatest New Zealand artists of the 20th century, Ralph Hotere.

Hotere was born in Mitimiti close to the Hokianga Harbour and Waipoua Forest, home of the great Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest kauri tree.  He was one of 15 children

After attending school at Hato Petera College in Auckland, he moved to Dunedin to study at the Dunedin School of Art.  He would then move back to his native Te Tai Tokerau to help art teachers at Northland schools, before earning a scholarship to further his studies at the London School of Art and Design.

After returning to New Zealand in 1969, he began to work with poets like Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire.  He also experimented with unusual tools and materials, like power tools and corrugated iron in developing his work. 

Hotere would then create the series of work he was most well known for.  The Black Paintings.  These works, black is used almost exclusively.  Stark, simple crosses.  Or dark strips of colour against even darker backgrounds.  Black would extend to later works, including the colossal Black Phoenix, constructed out of the burnt remains of a fishing boat.

Politics were a huge motivation from an early age.  Whether it was the piece Aramoana, protesting against a proposed aluminium smelter near Dunedin, or Black Rainbow referring to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, Hotere was not afraid to express his view on polarising issues.  However, sometimes the motivation behind the work was hard to pin down, as Sir Pita Sharples commented at his funeral in 2013.

White Drip II was painted in 2003 as a protest against Pauls Holmes referring to then-United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie".

Slowed by a stroke in 2001, Hotere died in 2013 aged 81.

One of Aotearoa’s most impactful 20th-century artists, Ralph Hotere has few contemporaries and easily makes our list of the Greatest Kiwis of All Time.