Ron Sang's white shirt sleeve is splattered with drops of orange and red, surely more by design than slovenliness. The architect, collector and publisher loves colour. He sits at his dining room table drinking coffee, carefully positioned in front of a large painting by Ralph Hotere that features the same brilliant oranges and reds. It is a favourite from the painter Sang insists is "the only artist who is a living national treasure in this country."
A copy of the same painting, authorised by the artist, graces the study floor. "Ralph [Hotere] said to me, 'You own the painting, you can do what you like with it'," says Sang, gazing down at the inferno-red rug he had specially woven.
The entire house, as with all Sang-designed buildings, is built for art. Walls are white and wide without too many windows, the proportions gracious yet cosy. Carpets are pearl grey. Everything, from the massive bright blue front door, is larger than life. And then there's the art: several energetic Pat Hanlys, a massive Philippa Blair, from her Heart series, interspersed with Peter Siddell and a gleaming stainless steel dragon by Guy Ngan on the wall just outside the kitchen window.
Add in hundreds of pieces of pottery crammed into every corner and shelf - including the loo: enormous vases, some decorated, others gleaming with glaze, every variation imaginable of Len Castle's volcano series, an entire shelf of exquisite John Parker bottles - every collection complemented by enough glass to fill an art gallery.
But despite the numbers, there is a sense of grace and orderliness. Paintings are given plenty of wall space. And the impact takes your breath away.
This is only half of Sang's collection. "I love pottery," he says. "But there were so many comments saying the place looked like a junk shop we put away 50 per cent."
Now, rather than in the Parnell and Newmarket offices Sang Architects occupied for 18 years, Sang works from home in a light-filled room upstairs with spare desks for his two children who contract for the family business. He likes to invite clients back to the house so they can see a living example of his work. "It's quite, quite different from what they imagine," he says cheerfully. "A bit of a shock!"
"But don't worry about all this," adds Sang. "This is about the book!"
He is talking about the Ralph Hotere book due for release next week. It is a large, elegant publication with Hotere's unmistakable signature rolled across the frontispiece, and page after page of large, heart-stopping photos presented on thick 150g paper.
This is the latest offering from Sang's Montana award-winning publishing empire. He started Ron Sang Publications in 2002 with Len Castle Potter which won a Montana Book Award. Two years later came Michael Smither Painter which was a finalist. Now four years later - and a good 12 months behind schedule - comes Ralph Hotere.
Why Hotere? "Because he is the greatest painter in this country," says Sang. "That's not only my view, but also that of the art community. And there have been only minor books published about him."
Until now. The publishing, stresses Sang, is a part-time hobby. Which for a perfectionist who also works full-time as an architect, sounds near-impossible.
The Hotere book has taken three years to prepare. First Sang, in collaboration with Hotere, had to identify which of the artist's hundreds of paintings from a 46-year career would make the cut. In the end they chose 257, bringing together the biggest and most balanced collection ever of the artist's work. For months Sang travelled between Hotere's home and studio at Port Chalmers near Dunedin, identifying his most important works. Next came the task of tracking down the paintings. Some were in museums and galleries and reasonably accessible, the rest in private collections. Sang worked through Hotere's dealer, Sue Crockford. "She would contact the owners and ask them to call me. It took ages."
The good part, he says, was getting into houses you don't normally see - and seeing other peoples' collections. "I loved it - like getting into private galleries."
Although Sang's first two books were works of art in themselves, and had done brilliantly at the Montana Book Awards - but earned little money for either publisher or the artist involved - some owners of Hotere's paintings were wary. While most were excited at the prospect of being in the book, others asked for a fee for allowing their painting to be photographed.
Once they had permission, Sang and his photographer, Simon Harper, were reluctant to move them, making it complicated to capture the perfect image. "The black-on-black surfaces of Hotere's paintings are notoriously difficult to photograph," says Sang. "But Harper's technology and techniques have captured their textures and contrasts with a clarity of detail often not possible in reproductions."
Next came the printing. For the third time in six years Sang travelled to Everbest printers in Nan Sha, near where his parents were born in Southern China, to oversee printing. "Accuracy of colour is absolutely essential," he says. "Eighty per cent of the prints had to be adjusted and 50 per cent of those done again."
Sang and designer Kelly Farrimond worked 12-hour days, 9am to 9pm, alongside the factory workers. "It's a modern plant but it's noisy and dirty. The weather was hot, 31 degrees and 80 per cent humidity, but they give you very good service."
That service extended to lunch and dinner with the boss of the factory for the 12 days it took to perfect every print. Then they flew home and waited for the first book to arrive.
And there it is - sophisticated, impressive and, as Hotere wanted it, all about the pictures. "A picture book," says Sang. Apart from nine chapter introductions, complete with nine iconic Marti Friedlander photographs of Hotere himself, there are two essays - one by Kriselle Baker, written around Hotere's famous Godwit/Kuaka 18m mural which hung in the arrivals hall at Auckland airport from 1977, and now forms a five-page foldout in the book. The other essay, which chronicles Hotere's career, is by poet, novelist and short story writer Vincent O'Sullivan.
Both writers were nominated by Hotere himself, presumably because they understand his personal philosophy and loathing for cant. O'Sullivan puts it crisply: "His well-known distaste for `art talk', his deep reservations on highbrow theoretical chatter, is at base, a dislike for elitism," he writes. "He [Hotere] insists that what he is famous for is no more distancing between himself and non-artistic friends than any other kind of job. And that's the way it's to be."
Hotere, published by Ron Sang Publications, is released on Monday; standard edition (3000 copies) $195; limited edition with stainless steel cover, 170gm paper, rimu presentation box and signed by the author (100 copies) $1965. Available from bookshops or direct from Ron Sang Publications, ph (09) 638 6898.