For background on the artist and works, see below.
About the ArtistMichael Smither is one of New Zealand’s most sought-after senior painters today, for his iconic super-realist and highly coloured paintings and screenprints which capture a unique and often very personal view of his world. In the past decade, he has returned to his work of the late 1970s, mapping the linkage between the harmonies of colour and those of music – the spectrum and the musical scale. His Harmonograms and Shared Harmonics are the latest series exploring this association, a viewing experience engaging both the senses when viewed while listening to music he has composed. This approaches synaesthesia, the phenomenon of overlapping senses, where some people see a colour when they hear a sound, or vice versa. These series evolved from his Okahu Bay Boats series, inspired by seeing boats at anchor in Okahu Bay reflected and silhouetted in a flood of golden afternoon light across the harbour. Over time he focused just on the shapes of the prows and coloured reflections to create abstract screenprints – there is quite a range, so please enquire for images, they range from $500-1200. Given that his realist paintings often take years to complete, only one or two become available each year, and that has been reflected in a significant increase in values, still continuing steadily, for both his new and earlier work. Some rock paintings now sell for $100,000-200,000; indicative of the demand and rarity. Michael Smither is also committed to remaining accessible to the wider public who love his work, and thus keeps his screenprints deliberately affordable. He has also produced prints of several of his most popular paintings with screenprinted enhancements, these start at $500, images on request. For further information or images, please contact Gallery Director Barbara Speedy on 0274 408 121 or by email .
Smither’s Harmonograms are based on chords commonly found in guitar or folk music; the colour at the base represents the key note, with the next full horizontal band a harmonic step and the colour between representing the harmonic shared by the two notes; likewise the relationship between bars across the painting. The bands narrow as the notes rise in pitch.
Collectors are now embracing these works, and the Pah Homestead (James Wallace Collection) staged a major retrospective of his career-long investigation of these. They are a very affordable investment in Smither’s work.
Michael Smither says his 2014 exhibition After Seurat – Okahu Boats is his final exploration of this series based on the reflections of both colours and shape using the silhouettes of the Okahu Bay boats as a compositional vehicle for those ideas. The boat shapes are pared back to become almost abstract, and the colours of the hatch covers create the central focus of the interplay between colours (and sound).
Otago Landscape series
In early 2012 Michael Smither completed the final works in another career-long series, capturing the Otago landscape. In five paintings, he took a hyper-surrealist approach to the mountains especially the Hawkdun Range of Central Otago, culminating in the breathtaking abyss of Snowstorm, Hawkduns, a painting on full human scale, so the viewer feels they are drawn into the heart of the central luminous crevasse. Hawkdun Abstract takes a softer, more sensual, abstracted view of the translucent folds of the mountains in late light.
From time to time landscape and his sought-after rock paintings also become available, please enquire.
We also have available a special selection of unframed screenprints from 1998-99: rare Artist’s Proofs or last of edition from the artist’s collection, plus a striking new Dolphins & Lovers silhouette series in black and white.
Other Taranaki inspired screenprints include Fantham’s Peak (of Mt Taranaki) and Back Beach. The full range can be viewed by appointment (or email).
More About the Artist
Michael Smither was born in New Plymouth in October 1939. He was educated at New Plymouth schools and left school in 1958, working at the Ivon Watkins factory, a chemical factory which later became controversial and was the subject of some of his paintings. His main interests were art and underwater diving.
During his father’s absence in the war years he was raised by his mother and two aunts who became Catholic nuns. He acknowledges the influence strong women have had throughout his life.
He attended the Elam School of Fine Arts at Auckland University from 1959-60 but rebelled against the formal environment and left, instead teaching himself and exploring a range of subject matter. He began exhibiting in 1961, initially in New Plymouth and Auckland. In 1962 he began his first ‘rock paintings’, a series which spanned many years and explores ideas about the impact of human occupation on the coastal environment. These became iconic images associated with the artist, even though he has explored many other themes including family, religion/spirituality, clouds, and his pivotal association of colour and musical harmonies.
He won the HC Richards Memorial Prize in Australia in 1968, and in 1970 he was the Frances Hodgkins Fellow at Otago University. In 2004 Michael Smither was awarded the ONZM (Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to art.
In the mid-1960s with the birth of his children he began painting images of domestic life, including his children, his wife, and still life objects such as domestic utensils. The domestic paintings captured moments of discovery by his children, or tension between family members.
As well as New Plymouth, the Otago region – his mother’s home province – provided much inspiration, expressed in simplified landforms with a human quality. With the completion of his final Taranaki paintings, he is now working on ideas more linked to his Coromandel experience, and a broader view of the landscape and the world than his past works with their intense observation of the everyday, close up.
Michael Smither is acknowledged as one of nine pivotal painters who emerged in the 1960s to lead contemporary New Zealand art in new directions.
Over four decades later, he stands at the crux of the contemporary movement, constantly exploring new ideas and themes closely connected with his own life.
A talented musician/composer, in the 1970s and 80s Smither became fascinated by the link between music and art, on the basis that ‘if anything looked good, it could sound good’. He completed a number of works which could actually be played as a musical score, by translating colour into sound. He identified parallels between the harmonies of colour and those of music, and formalised this into his landmark Harmonic Chart in 1982. He continues to use this as a reference. After years of dedication to his home region of Taranaki, Michael Smither now lives and paints near a more remote coast, on the Coromandel Peninsula, north of Whitianga.
Here, he and partner Gian McGregor have worked together on a new Otama series which combines their love of the ocean and land, and McGregor’s photographic eye, with his sculptural and compositional skills. McGregor also works as one of his assistants in the execution of some of his more abstract works.
Please contact us to confirm current prices: most prices are posted at the time of exhibition, and may be revised as the artists' values increase.