Collection

Black Painting 4: Green on Black
Ralph Hotere

1968-1969

Ralph Hotere
b.
1931
Title:
Black Painting 4: Green on Black
Production date:
1968-1969
Accession No:
68/2/4
Measurements:
1230 x 623mm
Media:
Brolite lacquer on hardboard

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Ralph Hotere is notoriously silent about his own work. His Black Paintings, perhaps his most rigorously simple works, reiterate this refusal of words. Made with glossy, black lacquer on hardboard, each painting is quartered by a finely drawn cross in one of the seven colours of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The Black Paintings, while monastic in their simplicity, escape austerity through the sumptuousness of their surfaces and the meticulous precision of their execution.

The colour black has always been a powerful reference point for Hotere. Stripped of all extraneous detail, the paintings become explorations of the physical properties of glossy, black paint; at once light and dark, surface and void. The seven colours of the spectrum, which together comprise white light, counterpose the silky depths of their dark backgrounds. It is significant that Hotere applied the black paint prior to the lines of colour. An uninterrupted black void is thus broken by threads of light; a sequence of events which recalls the traditional Māori creation story. Te Korekore, the foundational non-space, which is both nothingness and absolute potential, becomes Te Ao Mārama, the world of light.

Using only the most basic elements of painting — dark, light, horizontal, vertical — Hotere created works which are charged with potential significance. The cross shape, which simply internalises the horizontal and vertical edges of the paintings, is a motif with countless symbolic associations. Hotere provides no guidance as to whether we should interpret the crosses as references to window frames, intersections or the Christian cross. However, a key aspect of the design of the Black Paintings is their reflective surfaces. Hotere respects the independence of viewers to form their own conclusions. He invites us to see ourselves, literally and metaphorically, in his works.