Robin Slow
New Zealand, 1947–
Kōkōwai 2006
kōkōwai (red ochre), soot, acrylic binder and harekeke (flax) paper on canvas; kōkōwai on harekeke woven whāriki (mat), 1935 x 740 mm
Collection of The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū: gifted by the artist, 2006. ACC: 1035

This painting depicts the origins of kōkōwai, a stone that is ground to make a red ochre pigment, and which, when applied, can denote tapu (sacredness). Ranginui (Sky Father) is separated from Papatūānuku (Earth Mother), creating the world of light and humankind. The wounds inflicted on Papatūānuku result in the creation of kōkōwai.

Traditionally, kōkōwai pigment would be mixed with oils and applied as body adornment, or on carvings, buildings and waka. Robin Slow has combined kōkōwai and another traditional pigment, soot, with a modern acrylic binder, to make his own paint to tell this story.

In Mohua/Golden Bay, kōkōwai could be found at Onekaka and Parapara. This iron oxide was used for some early twentieth-century industries including an iron works and paint manufacture. Today you can see this colour on some historic buildings in Nelson, including part of The Suter Art Gallery.

Slow taught at Golden Bay High School for more than for 30 years. Since 1991 he has also worked with whānau at Onetahua Marae on the Wharenui Te Ao Marama.

Installation Details

43 Montgomery Square
(near the bike stand)


Many thanks to the property owner and tenant for being part of ArtWalk.

Nelson City Centre ArtWalk is a joint project by Make/Shift Spaces and The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū.