One of eleven children, Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere was born in Mitimiti, Northland, in 1931. He was educated at Hato Petera College and Auckland Teachers' College, before moving to Dunedin in 1952 to specialise in art.
After a spell in the Bay of Islands as an arts advisor for the Education Department, Ralph was awarded a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship to study in London at the Central School of Art in 1961. His time in England proved to be pivotal to his development as an artist. With the art world caught in a wave of general upheaval, which witnessed the advent of Pop Art and, subsequently, Op Art, Hotere found himself both influenced by the new movements and, as an outsider from New Zealand, at enough of a critical distance from what was new and trendy in British art to develop his own distinctive style.
Returning to New Zealand in 1965, he began to focus exclusively on his artistic career. Before being awarded the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship and moving to Dunedin permanently in 1969, Ralph had two important solo exhibitions in Auckland: Sangro Paintings and Human Rights (1965) and Black Paintings (1968).
During the same period he also struck up a relationship with the New Zealand literary world, publishing four drawings in Landfall 78 and designing the cover for Landfall 84, which was to come to full fruition in subsequent years in collaborative works with New Zealand poets.
In 1979, he used his friend Hone Tuwhare's well-known poem Rain to produce Three Banners with Poem, for the Hocken Library. The public appeal of this, and similar works is tremendous: the 1997 exhibition paying tribute to such collaborations, Out the Black Window, opened at the City Gallery in Wellington to an impressive 1200 visitors on the first day.
In 1994 Ralph received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago. He received one of the ten inaugural Icon Awards from the Arts Foundation in 2003 and in 2006 he was awarded Te Taumata Award by Te Waka Toi recognising outstanding leadership and service to Māori arts. He was awarded New Zealand's highest honour - the membership of the Order of New Zealand - in the New Year Honours 2012.
Ralph Hotere's work is represented in every major public and private collection in New Zealand and in art museums throughout the world.
For much of his life Ralph Hotere lived in Port Chalmers, Dunedin. He died on 24 February 2013, aged 81 and is survived by his daughter Andrea and his wife Mary McFarlane