Ralph Hotere (Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa) was a key figure in the emergence of Maori modernism—he was one of the so-called 'trailblazers'. In the 1970s, he became known for his hard-edged lacquer paintings. These symbolic op-art abstractions featured vertical lines, crosses, and circles drawn on black backgrounds.
In 1977, Hotere created one of his greatest works in this style, an 18 metre long mural for Auckland International Airport. The Flight of the Godwit honours the bar-tailed godwit (or kuaka), a bird admired by Maori for its long-haul flights. Displayed in the Arrivals Hall, the mural welcomed returning citizens and visitors alike. It exemplified many of Hotere’s key themes: the relationship between the ancient Maori worldview and the contemporary world, and abstract art’s ability to evoke questions of ecology and cosmology.
In 1996, the Airport deinstalled the mural and gifted it to the Chartwell Trust. The artist restored the work in 1997, retitling it Godwit/Kuaka. It has been on display at the Auckland Art Gallery from when it reopened in 2011 until recently.
When Hotere died last year, art historian Kriselle Baker wrote: "The one painting that is for me closest to the essence of the person I knew is the Godwit/Kuaka mural. The thin chords of colour hum and vibrate with a keening sound that falls away into the liquid darkness of the black and the recitation of the tauparapara that speaks of death and the afterlife. Now that he has gone, that work seems more full of sorrow."
Full details of the work can be found here and here.
Fault, a collaborative work by Hotere and Bill Culbert, is on permanent display on City Gallery's facade.