Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A tribute to Ralph Hotere

On the 24th of February the abstract artist Ralph Hotere died, aged 82.  I can't honestly claim he was a big influence for my work, but he is widely regarded as very influential in the New Zealand art scene and I am quite partial to some of his black paintings.  I'm partial to op art in general.  In memory of Mr. Hotere, let us take a moment to appreciate some of his work.


Godwit/Kuaka, courtesy of the Auckland Art Gallery

Hotere liked luminous effects and he liked vivid contrasts between deep blacks and bright, highly saturated colours.  He frequently used car paints to get the effect he wanted, because artists' paints of the time didn't have the right level of intensity.  Godwit/Kuaka uses car enamel to produce this brilliant effect.

Dawn/water poem, Manhire courtesy of artnet.com

In the mid-20th century New Zealand's art scene was gripped by a craze for using words in paintings.  All too often, this involved scrawling some words on the canvas and calling it a day, but here Hotere shows us that the text based painting doesn't have to be lazy.  He's used a clever combination of colour, line, and words to evoke the effect of sunrise over the ocean. 

I have a theory that this type of painting was a by-product of six o'clock closing.  Some readers may remember this dark chapter in our nation's history, when the law required public bars to stop selling alcohol at six p.m. and kiwis had just one hour to leave work, get to the nearest pub, and consume as much alcohol as was physically possible before the barlord called time.  If you had to stay behind to finish something, you missed out.  Of course, paintings take a lot of work, and inspiration is a tricky little beast.  You can't turn it on like a tap and have good ideas whenever you want them.  So it's my belief that word painting began when someone wanted to finish up quickly in time to get a pint, thus generating the hasty, uninspired work that characterised many such paintings.  But Hotere showed us that you can do something interesting with word paintings.  If I'm right, paintings like Dawn/water poem, Manhire may be the only positive result of six o'clock closing.

White Drip To Mr. Paul Holmes courtesy of kjohnsonnz.blogspot

White Drip To Mr. Paul Holmes is a visual pun that makes me smile every time I see it.  In 2003 Paul Holmes (who was indeed white, and it's safe to say Hotere and I agree on whether the term "drip" was appropriate) made himself notorious for referring to Kofi Annan as a "cheeky darkie".  I suspect the remark was deliberately made to get attention, and it wouldn't surprise me if Hotere thought so too.  Either way, he answered Holmes with a rather more intelligent comment of his own.

Hotere often used art to express his political and social views.  Many artists do, but they don't all do it as cleverly as this, or with quite the same level of humour.  I particularly like how, having made his point, Hotere proceded to rub it in by including the red X: "you are here".

Pathway to the Sea/Aramoana from odt.co.nz

It's only natural that an artist who loved to work with light effects should produce work incorporating actual lights.  Pathway to the Sea/Aramoana is an installation designed in collaboration with Bill Culbert, using flourescent tubes and paua shells.  Light from the fluorescents transforms the far wall of the room into an abstract ocean. 

Although this is an installation it looks exactly like the kind of painting Hotere liked to paint, and it gives the effect of actually being inside a Hotere painting.

Haere ra, Mr. Hotere.