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Black painting XV by Ralph Hotere


Black painting XV, from ‘Malady’, a poem by Bill Manhire, 1970, by Ralph Hotere.

This work is part of a series Ralph Hotere (1931– 2013) began in 1970 in collaboration with the poet Bill Manhire, a friend. Manhire had created a concrete/pattern poem which used just four words: malady; melody; my lady. This minimal poem was the basis for the series.

Hotere has long been interested in the role of words in painting. The first ‘word-paintings’ he saw were those of Colin McCahon. As with McCahon, words in Hotere’s paintings serve a contemplative purpose. Words first appeared in Hotere’s work in 1962 when he used them as visual elements in his Polaris series, which dealt with the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear war.

Hotere’s interest in the minimalism of the American artist Ad Reinhardt (1913–67) can be seen in this work. Reinhardt’s Black paintings of the late 1950s and 1960s used monochromatic colour and reductive geometric shapes to elicit a meditative response from the viewer. A key difference is that Reinhardt’s paintings were intended to be self-referential, whereas Hotere’s works often referred to the outside world.


Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Reference: 1971-0024-2
Permission of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Black painting XV by Ralph Hotere, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated