Farewell to a giant — 24.02.13

Farewell Ralph Hotere - Our tribute

Inscribed on the large mural, The Flight of the Godwit (now called Godwit/Kuaka), originally commissioned for the Auckland International Airport Terminal Building in 1977, and now on display in the Auckland Art Gallery as part of the Chartwell Collection, are the words:

He kuaka
He kuaka marangaranga
Kotahi manu i tau ki te tahuna
Tau atu
Tau atu
Kua tau mai

These words, which derive from a traditional Northern chant refer to a godwit alighting on a sandbank.  They carry the metaphor of the godwit as a departing spirit. Ralph deployed these words in other works to very moving effect.  Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Arts Foundation Governor,  says these words are invoked again at this point to mark  Ralph's passing as we reflect on the greatness of the man and his magnificent artistic legacy.

One of 11 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.  He became an itinerant art and crafts advisor in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) under the direction of the legendary Gordon Tovey, National Superintendant of Art and Crafts in the Department of Education. In Northland he fell in with other Maori art educators, Katerina Mataira, Muru Walters, Arnold Wilson and Selwyn Wilson and together they mounted, in 1958, in the University of Auckland's Adult Education centre the first ever exhibition of work by contemporary Maori artists. Awarded a New Zealand Art Societies Fellowship to study in London at the Central School of Art in 1961, Ralph was to become New Zealand's most honoured artist. Honorary doctorates from the University of Otago and the University of Auckland were conferred on him in 1994 and 2005. In 2006 he received Te Waka Toi's Te Taumata Award in recognition of his outstanding leadership and service to Māori arts and he was awarded New Zealand's highest honour - membership of the Order of New Zealand - in the New Year Honours 2012.

The Arts Foundation was privileged to have Ralph Hotere attend its inaugural Laureate Awards held in Auckland in 2000 where he helped with the Award presentations.  Elizabeth Knox said "one of the nicest things about getting my Arts Foundation Laureate Award was being handed the prize by Ralph Hotere (I kind of worship his work)".

In 2003 the Arts Foundation established the Icon Awards to acknowledge artists for their extraordinary achievements. The main purpose of this Award, the Arts Foundation's highest honour, is to acknowledge artists in their lifetimes. This enables New Zealand to celebrate the artist's achievements with them and show the country's deep appreciation for the impact they have made on our lives. The Arts Foundation was very proud to have Ralph's acceptance of the Icon Award amongst the original ten recipients and was honoured to be able to acknowledge the work of one of New Zealand's most significant artists.

Sam Neill, a long time friend, accepted the Icon Award on Ralph's behalf.. Sam tells a great story about meeting with Ralph to ask him what he would like said, on his behalf, at the Icon Award ceremony. A long way into their meeting Ralph simply handed Sam a list to read. The list consisted of artists that Ralph felt deserved recognition. Sam describes this as a humble act with just a little trademark cheeky intervention.

Ralph Hotere's work is represented in every major public and private collection in New Zealand and in art museums throughout the world.

He kuaka

He kuaka marangaranga

Our condolences to Ralph's family, colleagues, friends and to all who loved and were moved by his work.

View also Auckland Art Gallery's posting

Ralph died on 24 February 2013, aged 81.  He is survived by his daughter Andrea and his wife Mary McFarlane.


Ralph Hotere at the 2000 Laureate Awards, Auckland.  Image by Campbell Photographers