Ralph Hotere

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1931, d.2013
Te Aupōuri, Muriwhenua, Māori

1984 No. 9

  • 1984
  • Mixed media on paper on stainless steel
  • Purchased, 1984
  • Reproduced by permission of the Hotere Foundation Trust
  • 700 x 700mm
  • 84/18

Ralph Hotere made his first ‘Polaris’ works in London in 1962, as the world teetered on the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The UGM-27 Polaris was the United States Navy’s first nuclear-armed ballistic missile, launched from an attack submarine. In late 1983 / early 1984, with nuclear-powered US ships visiting Aotearoa New Zealand as part of the ANZUS alliance, and the controversial US policy to “neither confirm nor deny” whether they carried nuclear weapons, Hotere returned to this subject with a new sense of urgency. He worked with sheets of stainless steel – rumoured to have been ‘repurposed’ from a Fisher & Paykel factory truck – taking to them with a buffer, grinder and blowtorch to create ravaged surfaces that thrummed with violence. In 1984 No. 9, a missile-shaped form surges up across a delicately scorched paper sheet, countered by Hotere’s ragged, but forceful X. The reversed writing, reflective steel and weathered frame (made by Hotere’s friend, Christchurch artist Roger Hickin) make this ‘painting’ seem more like a mirror – a reflection of our actions and their consequences. (Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania, 2021)

earlier labels about this work
  • A protest work responding to the anti-nuclear debate, this work challenges the acceptance into New Zealand ports of nuclear-powered US submarines and cruisers equipped with Polaris missiles. Hotere uses the scratched stainless steel plate to suggest the sinister and uncompromising technology of the warship, whilst the weathered frame and delicately scorched paper allude to the fragility of the natural world and the impact of political decisions. A strong vertical in the centre of the work could suggest a periscope or the explosive thrust of a missile which have been 'crossed out' by the artist. The highly reflective surface, on which the scratched lines create a sparkling moving pattern of light, is a device often used by Hotere as a mirror or window through which we can examine our own actions and beliefs.