Ralph Hotere, the "warrior artist" who depicted some of the nation's most divisive historical events, has died at the age of 81.
Hotere died peacefully in Dunedin at midday yesterday, according to his lawyer, Judith Ablett- Kerr.
Arts commentator Hamish Keith paid tribute to him as "one of our greatest" adding: "It should be said of Ralph Hotere that he was a great warrior artist, and he fought with his art for great causes."
His work, which was often dominated by the colour black, looked at events that shaped New Zealand's recent history, such as the 1981 Springbok tour, the Rainbow Warrior sinking and the Aramoana massacre.
One of Hotere's paintings, Vive Aramoana, that recognised the victory in a fight to stop an aluminium smelter being built at Aramoana, north of Dunedin more than 30 years ago, sold for $183,000 in November last year.
Wellington's City Gallery director Elizabeth Caldwell was shocked to hear of the death of a man she came to know well during her time as director of Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which hosted Hotere's investiture as a Member of the Order of New Zealand.
He had a "transformative impact on contemporary practices in New Zealand", expressed through his monumental installations, she said. "We're very lucky to have his work to remember him by."
Hotere's Wellington dealer, Janne Land, began showing his work in 1978 and continued to do so until she closed her gallery in 2009.
As one of his few art dealers, she became a good friend of the artist, often staying with him at his Dunedin home, when they would fish, and she would sit in his kitchen while Hotere cooked.
"He was a very easy person to deal with. He was a very sensitive person and very modest about himself."
Activist and artist Tame Iti tweeted from prison: "The word of Ralph's death has reached us all in here. I am sad I will not get to see my old friend again."
Prime Minister John Key said last night that Hotere's passing would be "deeply mourned".
Hotere was born in 1931 in Taikarawa, in the Hokianga. He was of Te Aupouri descent and was the ninth in a family of 15.
He settled in Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, in 1969. He is survived by his wife, Mary McFarlane. Fairfax NZ
- The Marlborough Express