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This article is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

Miserere Mitimiti (Ralph Hotere) Gregory O'Brien

Some reflections on the New Zealand painter Ralph Hotere and his artworks incorporating poetry


Facing the sea, a small boy stands on the beach at Mitimiti in the Far North of New Zealand. It is the late 1930s and a storm cloud is moving towards the coast. It has been advancing for some time but, close to the beach, it now seems to have sped up, as if being drawn towards the land, inhaled. The cloud's grey bulk scuds across the silver plain, the vertical lines of rain joining the grey mass to its shadow. Behind the boy, voices approach from the direction of the settlement. Words in the Maori language can be made out, a few phrases in English and some long lines from the Latin Mass. While the Western world might not have granted the tiny settlement electricity at this time, it has bestowed upon it a Catholic church. The point at which these voices meet the advancing weather is where we find the lone figure of the boy, the forces of nature and language wrapping around Hone Papita Raukura Hotere.

Some years later Hotere - by this time known as Ralph - will produce hundreds of paintings exploring this recurrent moment on the beach when language, with all its inherent meanings, merges with the overwhelming 'fact' of a universe which transcends human meaning. This is a place he has stood, one way or another, all his life. This littoral setting has ...
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