John Hovell was born in Whitianga and grew up in Harataunga/Kennedy Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula. A painter and scholar of kōwhaiwhai (rafter painting), he was well known for his large-scale commissions in wharenui (meeting houses) and wharekai (dining halls) across the North Island.
Hovell began studying art and kōwhaiwhai in the mid-1960s under the mentorship of Paratene Matchitt and Pineāmine Taiapa. He later developed his own philosophy, approach and style drawn from a naturalist vision of his coastal environment – its signs, patterns and cycles.
By the 1980s, Hovell increasingly incorporated Pacific references into his work and positioned Māori art and culture within the whakapapa of the wider Pacific. This interest led John to move to the Solomon Islands in 1988, where he taught art, continued his studies and trained as an Anglican minister.
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