Ralph Hotere ‘Aramoana, Koputai’

Peter Simpson
Posted on 7 March 2024

The format of the double-sided, hinged, free-standing, painted wooden screen has appealed to many New Zealand artists, including Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters, Pat Hanly, Ralph Hotere, Bill Hammond and others. Ron Sang’s Hotere (2008), reproduces five screens, including the present work, while a sixth, The Wind I & II is included in Gregory O’Brien’s Hotere: Out the Black Window (1997); there may well be others among Hotere’s enormous output. Of the six known screens, three date from 1976, one from 1979 (Aramoana, Koputai), and two from 1987–88).

While the last two works are painted on stainless steel, the other four have a similar construction and format: the front consists of a double image on canvas, while the back consists of six canvas squares (three to each panel) within wide wooden frames. In Aramoana/Koputai the images and writing on the back are confined to the canvas squares, whereas in the three 1976 screens words are stencilled onto the wooden surrounds. Aramoana/Koputai is thus unique in the way the screen format is utilised.

Aramoana/Koputai was included in the exhibition Hotere: Out the Black Window at City Gallery, Wellington in 1997. In the accompanying book, Gregory O’Brien explains the title: ‘Aramoana’ (meaning ‘pathway to the sea’) is of course the sand-dune spit at the mouth of Otago Harbour, which figures recurrently in Hotere’s work of the 1970s and 80s as the site of a projected aluminium smelter, against the construction of which he and thousands of others successfully protested. The abstract image spreading across the front may be construed as an implicit outcry at such environmental desecration. O’Brien explains the significance of ‘Koputai’ (meaning ‘high tide’) as follows: ‘A traditional Maori tale has it that a group of Maori went to sleep on the beach at Port Chalmers and awoke to find their canoes had drifted away on the tide, at which they exclaimed “Koputai!”’ (O’Brien, p. 83).

Ralph Hotere

Aramoana, Koputai

acrylic on canvas panels mounted on wooden frames set inside two-panel folding screen.

signed and dated ’79 and variously inscribed

1545 x 607mm

1545 x 900 x 550mm: installation size variable

$80 000 – $120 000


‘Hotere: Out the black window’, City Gallery, Wellington, June 1997.


Gregory O’Brien, Hotere: Out the Black Window – Ralph Hotere’s work with New Zealand Poets (Godwit, 1997), p. 44.


Purchased from Judith Anderson Gallery, Auckland, 1994.

View lot here

The double title replicating the format of the hinged and double-sided screen, evokes the whole cherished environment of Otago harbour from Port Chalmers (where Hotere lived and had his studio) to the open ocean at Aramoana, and this emphasis on place and name is repeated on the back as four of the six panels include Maori place names (written in varying scripts and colours) for the hills, islands and other locations on and around the harbour: Mihiwaka, Mopanui, Rangiriri, Kamamautarua, Nga Tamariki O Parewa, Te Ara O Te Makau and Tereweka. It is a roll-call, a litany of names, to evoke personal and tribal attachment to the region as threatened by industrial capitalism.

The single back-panel in English quotes from Ezekiel 36: 28 in the Old Testament: ‘And ye shall dwell in the land I gave to your fathers and ye shall be my people and I will be your God’. As O’Brien remarks such biblical prophecies ‘carry strong associations with Maori millenarian movements – they are important statements of the relationship between the land and its inhabitants’ (p. 45)

This majestic work, so rich and varied in its imagery and connotations, comes from the living core of Hotere’s artistic being and heritage.

Peter Simpson