Michael Duncan Smither

Date of birth / Date established
Place of birth / Place established
Other sources-

Michael Smither

Selected Exhibitions
1985 - 2002
Exhibits frequently, at: John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
Yvonne Gallery, Christchurch
Upstairs Gallery, Whitianga
End of time's chimes Christchurch Festival
Suite of figure drawings Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
Views from Back Beach John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Works on paper 76-82 Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Motumahanga John Leech Gallery, Auckland
The NZ Landscape Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North
T.A.C.O. The politics of exhibition Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Four Years of Collecting Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
Michael Smither & friends St Josephs, New Plymouth
Back Beach Time Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Slides, music and dance.
Harmonic shapes scratched on transparencies and printed.
Polyphonic chords touring New Zealand
The rocks revisited and political statements John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Michael Smither retrospective Te Awamutu Arts Festival
Stations of the Cross Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Taranaki panels John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Michael Smither - retrospective drawing Studio Gallery, Hamilton
Polyphonic Chords Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
Humour and satire in painting CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Carnival of the animals Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Drawings in retrospect Display Art Gallery, Rotorua
Paintings for the revolution Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland
Major works from private collections Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Purchases over 10 turbulent years Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Rangitoto Special Peter Webb Galleries, Auckland
Retrospective drawings Aquarius Arts Ltd, Hamilton
You, me, us Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Eleven paintings Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
New Zealand prints Auckland City Art Gallery
Painting in Taranaki Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
New Zealand drawing Auckland City Art Gallery
Retrospective WSA Studio Gallery, Hamilton
New Paintings John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Group 75 John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Watercolours Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Back Beach Series John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Works on paper Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Art N.Z. '74 CSA Gallery, Christchurch
New year/new works Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Portraits by contemporary New Zealand painters New Vision Gallery, Auckland
6th international graphic art exhibition India
New Zealand on paper Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Domestic paintings Manawatu Gallery, Palmerston North
John Leech Gallery, Auckland
Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Landscape - a survey Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Watercolours, drawings & prints Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Drawing invitational Manawatu Gallery, Palmerston North
Michael Smither paintings prints drawings Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Work by Michael Smither Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
An exhibition of watercolours Peter McLeavey Gallery, Wellington
Centenary collection Manawatu Gallery, Palmerston North
Earth/earth Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Figuratives Now Hawthorn City Art Gallery, Melbourne
111 views of Mount Egmont Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
M.D.Smither, Frances Hodgkins Fellow Otago Museum, Dunedin
Acquisitions '69-70 Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Expo 70 Exhibition Osaka, Japan
New Zealand art of the sixties QE2 Arts Council
Dolphins and lovers Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Paintings and drawings CSA Gallery, Christchurch
New Zealand modern art Smithsonian Institution, Washington
The Essentialists Blaxland Gallery, Sydney
Religious paintings & drawings Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
Michael Smither Argus Gallery, Melbourne
Benson & Hedges Art Award Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
This land Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland
100 New Zealand painters Pan Pacific Arts Festival, Christchurch
The Essentialists Pinacotheca Gallery
(tours to Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney)
The Group Gloucester St Gallery, Christchurch
The Group Durham St Art Gallery, Christchurch
Manawatu Prize for Contemporary Art Palmerston North Art Gallery
Michael Smither paintings Argus Gallery, Melbourne
New Zealand paintings 1966 Auckland City Art Gallery
New Zealand painting Auckland City Art Gallery
Group 60 Opera House, New Plymouth
Sketches & lino-cuts by MDS Giotto Art Gallery, Auckland
Victoria Reigns Taranaki Museum, New Plymouth
Michael Smither Artides Gallery, Wellington
Contemporary New Zealand painting and sculpture Auckland City Art Gallery
Contemporary New Zealand painting and sculpture Auckland City Art Gallery
Group 60 New Plymouth Public Library

THE ICONIC painting of a little girl eating baked beans has become synonymous with Michael Smither, and those in search of his other infamous paintings that have become such a part of New Zealand life, will not be disappointed by The Wonder Years. Smither’s first major exhibition since 1984 spans the period between 1962 and 1979 during which he was prolific and varied in the paintings he produced. Explaining the time as a “hormonal period” in his life, due to his finishing school, getting married and “being religious”, the artist is modest and practical about the volume and range of works on display.

Besides each painting, Smither has written a few sentences describing the work, or providing viewers with an anecdote detailing how it came about. As a result, this is an incredibly personal exhibition, where his voice comes through in text as well as image and where the artist’s natural surroundings, domestic life, religious and political views are all on show. In the Reading Room, a 30 minute DVD plays of Smither talking about six of the paintings, and we are given an unparalleled insight into this incredibly open man and his work. Playing through the Gallery, is the Smither’s own composition, 21 Piano Pieces, underlining that this is not only a visual presentation, but a more manifold artistic performance where the viewer can use the music to ‘play’ the paintings.

Living in New Plymouth, Smither produced many well-known landscape paintings, notable for their realist style and glistening colours. Vantage points are often very high or low, allowing certain aspects of the image to nestle in the background, or overwhelm the foreground as desired. Rocks With Mountain is an obvious example of this technique, in addition to being one of the celebrated rock paintings. In placing the pink pool so close to the point of view, and hence being able to paint it so large, the painting becomes undeniably political. Far from being a study on the manipulation of the oval form into a rock, this is a powerful piece where the blood of revolutionary workers is in the fore, and Smither’s sympathies with the Czech revolutionaries of the time are displayed. Look a little closer, and far away, at the foot of the mountain, is a lone red tractor. How far away, how small the tractor next to the mountain – how large the proletariat struggle.

Whilst paintings such as Rock Pool with Neptune’s Necklace are moving meditations on the natural world and depictions of the beauty of the landscape so adored by Smither, paintings such as Rocks, Concrete and Iron force New Zealanders into a contemplation of their own environment. With only a small glimpse of the sea in the background, the painting is dominated by the harsh materials of concrete and iron. These are immediately symbolic of our destruction of the natural landscape, but in placing such emphasis on the rocks beside them, Smither is also pointing to our own introduction of rocks on a shoreline once resplendent with sand dunes. Our desperate and violent reactions and attempts to control nature are highlighted for their senselessness, and Smither is successful in presenting his environmental concerns.

Be they political or not, the landscape paintings are an exceptional body of work and each one has some aspect to it that is arresting. Large Blue Pool with Wave Invading, for example, is a dynamic representation of the impending disturbance of a tranquil pool where the sense of movement has been so accurately captured that the viewer half expects the paint to move. On the other hand, equally stirring, yet quite different, The Spring Night of Kirby Wright is more of a romantic dream-work showing streetlights dazzling against the moonlit night sky.

The second room houses Michael Smither’s ‘domestic paintings’ which were initially received with mixed reviews. Perhaps we are no longer surprised by the forms hands and faces take in these paintings, but they now appear as superbly realised evocations of family life. The wonderful positioning of Nude on a Green Couch next to Rubber Gloves serves to draw out the tensions of family life; the latter depicts a symbol of a frustrated wife, while beside it the former is a composition Smither admits to painting as a placatory gesture.

Centrally placed among these paintings are Smither’s ‘paintings of the revolution’ and ‘religious paintings’, though they are surrounded by pictures of domesticity, they cannot be ignored. Smither’s anti-war statements are powerful, particularly for their use of young boys and their comment on mass culture, though the power of his religious paintings is testament to his Catholic upbringing and originality as a religious painter. His representation of the crucifixion is immediately striking for the black space in the place of Christ’s face. Yet given more thought, Smither’s modest and pragmatic approach makes sense, for how could a painter paint the face of Christ while on the cross?

The Wonder Years displays works painted three decades ago, yet they have lost none of their ability to challenge viewers and confront issues. Still stirring paintings, they have a powerful magic realist quality to them that allows Smither to communicate with his viewers through his work. It is hard not to leave this exhibition without wanting to see more, and, in particular, what Smither is painting now.

See also:
» Michael Smither on The Wonder Years (Interview)
» Michael Smither—The Wonder Years @ NZ International Arts Festival

Michael Smither is one of New Zealand’s most renowned and respected artists. His painting is often deeply personal and autobiographical, delving into the domestic landscapes and outside environments of his daily life. ‘Michael Smither—The Wonder Years’ – the first major exhibition of his work since 1984 – focuses on the incredibly productive period between 1962-1979 when the artist was living in his home town of New Plymouth....[Read More]


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