Sunday, 27 September 2020


“The trees are burning with rage”

Much of what renowned Otama artist, Michael Smither, has to say goes on the canvas. But just a short chat with the personable self-proclaimed greenie and it’s clear that words are also a comfortable medium.

The painter enjoyed on Thursday last week a meet and greet with visitors to Bread & Butter Gallery in Whitianga where his latest exhibition “Light Through the Trees” is currently open to the public. As the conversation drifts casually from Italian painters and music to Michael’s first ever mural on the bathroom wall as a child back in New Plymouth, the artist gently unwraps the multiple thought layers portrayed in his latest works.

“All the paintings in Light Through the Trees are based on real trees in Otama. The trees are burning with rage because of what we as humans are doing,” Michael says. While the exhibition has been several years in the making, inspired by the Michael’s deep passion for the environment, the parallels between the distress of his brush strokes and the reality of the bush fire crisis in Australia, are inescapable.

“The planet is burning and it is not by accident. We have been relentless is our destruction and our world cannot take any more, it has reached the limit,” he says.

The work is at times sobering, at times angry and certainly powerful. But, whether intentionally or in spite of himself, Michael still offers some glimpses of hope and a sense that maybe all is not lost after all. “That’s the interesting thing about the shapes created by the empty spaces, you only need to step a little to the left or the right and you can see things from a while different perspective,” he says. A suggestion that perhaps stretches beyond the art and into a world where the artist believes more than a small shift is required.

His interest in Japanese calligraphy was one of the first things to drive Michael’s fascination with shapes and, in particular, the spaces they create. “Some of the trees in the paintings have been growing for three or four hundred years. Each branch has developed in its own particular way, creating its own unique shapes through which we can look beyond,” he says.

It is these views through the trees, their dynamism, how they shape the world beyond, the light and shade they create and the potential for surprise that inject a tangible vibrancy into the paintings so that this serious subject matter is delivered with tremendous energy and a note of defiance.

There is emotion on the canvasses and equally in the room as Michael lights up when discussing his role in the recent public art programme which has seen more than 10 murals installed around the streets of Whitianga.

“Doing some of those murals was one of my favourite things that I have done in recent years, I thoroughly enjoyed doing them and I love seeing them when I am in town. I have always been a big fan of murals. It is wonderful having such great art out in a public space where everyone can enjoy and appreciate it, rather than locked away in private collections, as often is the case,” he said.

The way art created space for some challenging but necessary conversations during the Tuia 250 commemorations was another positive development from Michael’s perspective.

Yet again, we are back on the subject of space and our conversation and walk around the gallery has provided exactly that, the space to view Michael’s pieces from many angles, the space to contemplate and consider the messages the artworks want to convey, and the space for a very nice chat on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Light Through the Trees continues until 31 January at Bread & Butter Gallery. Michael will be in house every Thursday from 2:00pm to 2:30pm.

Pictured: Renowned Otama artist, Michael Smither, with one of the paintings from his“Light Through the Trees” exhibition currently running at Bread & Butter Gallery in Whitianga.



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