Michael Smither

New Zealand b. 1939

From 1985 - 1986 a major retrospective of Smither's work travelled the Country. The exhibition curated by Jim & Mary Barr exposed Smither as one of New Zealand's leading artists of his time. By painting what is found in his immediate environment Smither's work has an autobiographical quality to it. Throughout his career Smither has painted subjects that are close to him such as family and friends, often in a domestic context. When discussing his work Smither states "My painting is not isolated from my life, it is my life and everything that happens to me, good, bad, and indifferent is incorporated into it. If I have a broken up relationship that’s part of my work, and if I take up T'ai Chi that's part of my work too" (Gregory O'Brien, Lands & Deeds - Profiles of Contemporary NZ Painters, p. 25, Godwit, 1996)

Early in his career Smither was influenced by New Zealand artists John Weeks and T A McCormack and internationally by Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, and Stanly Spencer. Smither studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland and began painting professionally after completing his studies in 1960. He spent the majority of the 1960's and much of his life in New Plymouth and it is his stylised 'boulder' paintings of the Taranaki region, and specifically his depictions of Mount Taranaki and the rocky coastline that he is most renowned for.

Smither's paintings are characterised as being of a representational, hard-edged style, with an emphasis on simplified forms and strong directional lighting. Whether painting landscapes, figures, or still life Smither conveys a strong sense of solidity in his forms. Structure and composition are of significant concern in his work. In Clouds, 1989 Smither represents a cloud formation in isolation. By exploiting light and tone he emphasises the solidity and structure of the form. His figure, and still life works also encompass this weighted quality. The luminosity of surface in Smither's paintings is due to his meticulous painting technique. Smither's oils take from one to two years and longer to complete. He layers his surfaces to build the painting from the base up which results in vivid, radiant colour and illuminated forms.

Although Smither has retained a representational style throughout his career he has often changed his approach towards his subjects. In his later works Smither pays closer attention to the details of the objects, people and places he paints. In Work Trousers, 1999 Smither renders the repeated folds of fabric on a pair of trousers in thorough detail.

Smither's paintings are included in all the public New Zealand art collections, including the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington and the Waikato Museum. His work is also included in private collections in New Zealand and internationally.

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