New Zealand loses one of our most visionary artists, Ralph Hotere

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(NZHerald) One of our most visionary artists, Artist Ralph Hotere has passed away.

The 81-year-old, who is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most important artists, was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand in 2011.

He was the only person to be awarded the country’s highest honour that year.

Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae conferred the honour in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Sir Jerry said at the time that the award “speaks of service, merit, endeavour, perseverance, commitment, excellence and, above all, mana”.

Hotere’s painting are well-regarded by collectors, with his piece Vive Aramoana fetching $183,000 at auction in November last year.

Born in Northland and of Te Aupouri iwi descent, Hotere’s hometown of Mitimiti played a key role in his work.

He was based in Otago for a number of years.

The citation for Hotere’s Order of New Zealand said that as a painter, sculptor and collaborative artist, he had reacted to social and environmental issues through his work.

His art is dominated by black, both in colour and in the artworks’ titles, and makes extensive use of words, often quoting poets and his conversations with them.

He dealt with key New Zealand historical events such as the Springbok tour, the Rainbow Warrior sinking and the Aramoana massacre.

Hotere tackled many issues in his art, including one close to his home at Port Chalmers – a proposed aluminium smelter in Aramoana which was part of the then-government’s Think Big scheme.

He joined other artists and writers as part of the No Smelter campaign.

In 1994, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Otago. He was also recognised by the Arts Foundation with an Icon Award in 2003.

Hotere Foundation chairwoman Judith Ablett Kerr QC said at the time of his honour that Hotere remained outspoken about issues that troubled the world, even a decade after suffering a debilitating stroke.

“Ralph’s career spans over 50 years and reflects his intense spiritual interest in humanity and environment.”

In 2011, Hotere celebrated his 80th birthday with exhibitions throughout the country.

That year he also completed an artwork for his Christchurch printer, Marion Maguire, as a sign of support for the quake-hit city.

New Zealand art commentator and curator Hamish Keith was among those who paid tribute to Hotere on Twitter.

“Ralph Hotere a truly great artist one of our greatest and like Colin McCahon a bridge across two powerful rivers haere ra.

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

“When a great person dies we are left with the changes they made to our world – time to reflect on that.”

Art historian Cheryl Bernstein said she was saddened by Hotere’s death.

“A great artist, a friend to poets, a painter of requiems.”

Christchurch Art Gallery tweeted: “We’re so very sad to hear of the passing of Ralph Hotere. One of the best.”

He suffered a stroke in 2001 and was understood to have been unwell in recent days.

He is survived by his wife Mary McFarlane.

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