RALPH HOTERE – Round Midnight & other lithographs – 11 May-4 June, 2021
Ralph Hotere took printmaking seriously. He was responsive to materials in everything he did. He picked up tools, handled substances and worked with what they could do. He never fought the medium, always worked with it. In his hands an electric grinder might scribe light into stainless steel, paint might spread or drip, a pencil may skim across paper interrupting its whiteness with lines of thought. His respect for materials is nowhere more evident than in Black Phoenix, where the burnt timbers of a fishing vessel that had been consigned to the dump are transformed into something extraordinary. Ralph altered the boat only to the point where his statement was revealed and no further. He knew when to pull back. He had the same approach to printmaking. Ralph looked for what lithography could do and found new expression for his vision through it. These prints, though multiple, are original works. They could not have been produced in any medium other than lithography. He enjoyed drawing on stones and plates. He enjoyed the trial proofing, the testing, the play between layers, the paper, the oily blackness.
All the prints in this exhibition were made in collaboration with Marian Maguire. Their collaboration began in 1984, when Marian was still a student at Ilam School of Art, and spanned twenty-four years. It resulted in more than one hundred editions and touched all his major themes through that period. Ralph’s consistent support of Limeworks and later Papergraphica print studios enabled both their existence and helped create a structure in which numerous artists from throughout New Zealand could express themselves in print form with Marian as master printer and her changing team of editioning printers and assistants. PG gallery192 morphed out of Papergraphica and it would be true to say, that without Ralph Hotere, this beautiful gallery on Bealey Avenue would not be operating either. He is embedded in the foundations. I have been writing in the third person to this point but will switch to my own voice now. Thank you, Ralph. I hope you like this exhibition and wish you could be here to walk around it.
Further down you’ll find something I wrote in 2013, a few months after Ralph died. We mounted an exhibition here to acknowledge and celebrate him. The gallery was wonky with earthquake damage yet despite its crumpled state it felt warm and humane. The tone of my writing was personal. Ralph has been quoted to say that when people write about art they end up writing about themselves. And he would often say: if you want to understand the work, go and look at it. Of course he is right. But I would now say to him, if those writers hadn’t looked at his work and written about themselves it would mean the work hadn’t affected them, hadn’t reached, hadn’t spoken, wasn’t alive. I’ve come to understand that when one looks at art there is the possibility it may open doors to oneself. This is a very individual thing. Ralph was able to create those doors out of not much: blackness, smudges, lines, words.
Marian Maguire, May 2021.
Script from the 2013 exhibition at PaperGraphica:
“Ralph Hotere was the first artist I worked with in my role as a collaborative printmaker. It was in 1984 at Ilam School of Art and I was a student. He arrived direct from the 5th Sydney Biennale, which could be said to have been his big break. His corrugated iron panels had claimed their space and made his name. Barry Cleavin, my teacher, had arranged for Ralph to work on etchings and lithographs with Sue Cooke and me. At that time I was absolutely obsessed with lithography, Ralph found he loved drawing on stone, we hit it off.
I am now  almost the age Ralph was when I first worked with him and I’ve become, miraculously it sometimes seems, a successful artist myself. Because of this I now have more insight into Ralph’s situation back in 1984 and see how hard he worked for the decades before success was consistent. Even then it didn’t come easy. Life as an artist can be a struggle, though not always in a negative sense. There is the tedious week-by-week wrangling for survival but to compensate there is the enticing struggle within the imagery itself and it is the appeal of this struggle that drives one to continue. Challenge and risk. What a buzz when something actually comes off!
My relationship with Ralph was completely bound up with plates and proofs. We communicated through images: drawings, photographs, things in his studio, his exhibitions, images by other artists and the trial proofs. It was only when Ralph saw that I hadn’t ‘got it’ that he would use words. And he was adept with words but within pictures he was ‘an artist’. This would appear a needless thing to say but it is worth underlining. Ralph Hotere’s images don’t illustrate verbal points; they make their own point in a language that is essentially visual. Ralph forced me to develop my own visual intelligence and this helped me when it came to proofing his images. The trial proofs became a way of me saying: Is this what you mean? The alterations, the scribblings over, the rejections and acceptances were a clarification of his intent. They were also often an acknowledgement of the joy of exploration. He liked to see what I came up with. Printmaking can be fun. It throws up sudden combinations, the reversals often surprise, each plate can be printed in any colour and can slide from the back to the front of the picture completely changing the emphasis, altering the subject. A plate, printed in transparent ink, blends; the same plate, opaque, imposes. There is something else about prints that continues to grab me. A drawing in pencil may often appear to muse on an idea, play with a proposition. The same drawing in printers’ ink is gruntier, more serious; has transformed into a statement.
Art isn’t made in isolation from life and the images I have selected for this show resound for me with echoes of when they were made. At times Ralph would want to make prints about something current, for instance the threat to his land on Observation Point. Work was also a good way getting through difficult patches. It was an anchor. Timing came into it and when he wanted to draw I made an effort to pack up plates and head south so he could start while the impulse was fresh. I was seldom able to process immediately, other projects were always queued, but that didn’t matter, having got the drawings down Ralph was content to wait. He was the most flexible artist I worked with and if I were ever to totally screw up (which, thankfully, I never did) I knew it would be alright with him. People are more important than pictures.
Ralph worked with lots of people – artists, writers, metal workers, curators, filmmakers, photographers – and he took an interest in their work beyond the project at hand. I felt that he considered me an artist first and foremost and that I was working with him, not for him. He always said I should put my work ahead of his own. It is, to some extent at least, because of Ralph’s confidence in me that I have had sufficient faith to develop as an artist myself.
The hardest prints to make were the last four: two in 2005, two in 2008. All about grief for lost friends and approaching death. So hard to work on but so accurate to the situation. ‘Accurate to the situation’ is such clunking, ugly phrasing. ‘Eloquence’ is a word Ralph liked and eloquent is what the prints are but the word ‘eloquence’ smoothes over the acutely guttural feeling of loss and fear that underlies these images. He very much wanted to make these lithographs, get them started, get them out. Yet when I came back with the proofs he was pleased to see the ideas secure on paper but didn’t ponder long beyond the ‘okay’. It was as if they were just part of a bigger visual reality rotating in his imagination. For me Ralph’s work opens doorways to things in my own mind. There is the subject, yes – politics, poetry, symbols – but underneath that, abstraction. Quiet, vibration, clamour, stillness.
Ralph was intelligent, perceptive, patient and kind; no saint, he was never self-righteous. Now this is sounding like an obituary while it should be about the art – a celebration – but how does one separate the art from the man? Art at its best is, I believe, about the human condition. In all its earnest, faulty, glowing brightness and shadow.”
Marian Maguire, August 2013
Ralph Hotere exhibition floor talk with master printer Marian Maguire – Tues 25 May, 12noon
Marian Maguire, in her role as master printer, collaborated with Ralph Hotere over a 24 year period. In this talk she will background the lithographs plus talk about her working process with Ralph.