Hotere legend lives on in Hamilton

22:49, Feb 27 2013
Ralph Hotere
The mural's bright colours were controversial in its day.
Ralph Hotere
Ralph Hotere in Hamilton in 1992 creating an installation made of No 8 wire at the Centre for Contemporary Art.
Ralph Hotere
Hotere with the controversial Founders Theatre mural he completed for the Hamilton City Council in 1973. This photo taken in August 1973.

New Zealand has lost one of its great artists, but Ralph Hotere's name is legend that will live on in the Waikato.

Despite being from up north and working largely out of the south, Hotere left his impression in the form of a mural in Founders Theatre.

The mural was commissioned 40 years ago by the Hamilton City Council and the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and cost a grand total of $3000.

The work was controversial at the time, with many questioning whether the council was right to spend such a big sum on an artwork with local art critic Geoff Fairburn comparing the effect of the mural "to a trendy undertaker's parlour".

The mural's brightly-coloured horizontal lines referenced the Waikato River and the vertical lines to the activities in the theatre, while the circles represented seven heavens.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said it is ''of national significance'' and an ''integral part'' of the venue, and called it the city's most valuable piece of public art.

 Visual arts curator at Waikato Museum, Leafa Wilson, said Hotere's death was a "huge loss" to the art community.

"He was like the godfather of contemporary New Zealand art. He represented more than Maori and more than pakeha, he was a visionary," she said.

It was not the only time the celebrated artist made his mark on Hamilton. He was here in 1992 to create a large installation made of No 8 wire in the Centre for Contemporary Art.

He draped, dropped and coiled five kilometres of wire from the ceiling, walls and pillars of the gallery.

Hotere has won a host of honours and awards, including the Icon Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, Te Taumata Award for outstanding leadership and service to Maori arts and New Zealand's highest honour, the membership of the Order of New Zealand.

He died on February 24, survived by his wife, Mary McFarlane, and daughter Andrea Hotere from his marriage to writer Cilla McQueen.