Michael Smither – Central

Rare drawings of Otago and Marlborough from 2005-2006

Michael Smither
3 March to 10 April 2024

Preview: 3 March 2pm

Sensuous, insightful drawings of Central Otago and Marlborough, from 2005-2006, newly released and framed, from the Michael Smither studio collection. Plus a few superb, rare sketch portraits of fellow artists including Sir Grahame Sydney. For more background on the works and exhibition, see below the images.

Good painting begins with a good line, but often the drawings which underpin acclaimed paintings remain unseen, tucked away in the artist’s studio as they move onto new projects. Sometimes (too rarely!) the drawings emerge, as with this suite of extraordinary works from the studio of Michael Smither, an evocation of light, landform, each one an insight into the central process of this masterful painter.

Most of this series arose from visits to Central Otago in 2005-2006, revisiting the dramatic landscape where Michael Smither lived and painted in his early career. His re-engagement with Central brought encounters with fellow artists, and the suite of drawings we received from the studio include a few delightful portrait sketches of Sir Grahame Sydney and of fellow artist Nigel Brown.

The drawings of the dramatic Hawkdun Mountains, which dominate the view from the Central Otago homes of Grahame Sydney and his then-neighbour Anton Oliver, led to a series of major paintings by Smither, exhibited at The Diversion in early 2012, and beautiful screenprints which abstract the snowy shadows into forms reminiscent of Matisse’s dancing figures. One of these screenprints, Hawkdun Detail, is in this Central exhibition.

We were also delighted to discover a small number of studies of the Marlborough Sounds, Pelorus Bridge, and Collingwood, from a trip in 2006.

The drawings, from intimate to large scale, are always en plein air, carefully observed but sometimes swiftly rendered, with handwritten notations for colours, or changes Smither believed were required to the composition. These notes are an intrinsic part of the drawing itself, and a statement of intent towards the future painting. More than 20 works have been framed especially for this exhibition, presented for the first time.