Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 35 No 5. March 29, 1972
This is an interesting exhibition of but a fraction of the work of one of NZ's best and most diversified artists. The four different subjects exhibited - portraits religious, nude and rocks - are no more than an introduction to the wide range of subjects Smither has painted, with varying success, but unvarying intensity. He has also painted watercolour landscapes, 'sensuous' landscapes of bills or snow, schmaltzy landscapes of rivers and mountains, far away land with magical ominous bills or near land with concrete (,) rocks or abstract rock pools. Landscapes from pretty parks to sublime, even religious hills. Landscapes, almost always meticuously and effectively painted, but in the end they are no more than landscapes.
At their most dramatic there is really no more in them than the intrinsic, drama of the paint. In this respect Smither is similar to Brent Wong, Alvin Pankhurst, and others, who exploit paint, especially grey paint, creating an imaginary tension, creating a superficially exciting picture which sooner or later must be found to be shallow.
Smither has a genuine direction to concentrate in, but he's not committed to it yet. His strongest paintings and those which will last are his people pointings, especially those in which he paints people religiously. Just as the best painting in the exhibition is undoubtedly the 'Christ', so are the paintings of his children, his family, and of specific biblical subjects the most powerful of his oeuvre. Portraits are a recent departure for Michael Smither and they may prove fruitful. But in a painting like the 'Christ' he has learned from the acheivement of expressionists such as Beckmann and Dix. His painting does not solve the problem of expressionist theme and composition painted in hard-edge style. In this respect the stained glass pictured is more successful. But there is all the humour, drama, and life-love of a Stanly Spencer which means there may be a great futrue in this style if Smither wants to commit himself to it.
Michael Smither (on conservation)
When I was a boy the most satisfying sensation of my young life was to get down into the bush with an air rifle and an axe and create a bit of mayhem, shoot a few fantails. Mow their guts all over the place and put them in a little feathery pile, and when I got tired of that cut down a few saplings to make a hut or to hell with it just cut down a few saplings.
. . Me and my buddies we all did it; we competed how many trees we could fell, birds we could kill. We enjoyed the deathly still of the bush only echoing to the chop chop of the axe. Then maybe the farmer whose orchard we'd raided told the police and we ran for our lives tripping over logs and vines tearing our clothes on bush lawyer, scrambled wet and muddy through the bush streams across the paddocks and away down the side streets our hearts thumping fit to bust and lay low in our bedrooms waiting for doomsday.
..When we got more sophisticated we left the bush for more exciting pastimes, breaking roadside beer bottles from our speeding bicycles, we got pretty good at it, 90 was my best tally for one day. Then there were lovers to stalk and experiments with blasting powder in the sand dunes, the gang clay fights until Pete took a stone in the eye and want home Moody near Mind. Then we all felt rotten. We read where some kid had bled near to death from a broken bottle and some bastard put rater blades in kids' slide, my stomach heaves still to think of it.
..we knew what we'd been doing was mad and i guess that was mostly the reason for doing it. By now we were all teenagers and had a few pimples, our interests began to turn from the observation of lovers to a little experimenting ourselves. The bush took on a new light. Mind you it was damn hard to lure any female full of the notion of sax maniacs info it. So mostly it was just a good place to get away from parents and rotten bloody society with its lawns to cut, garages to clean out and concrete fences to help build. When you sat quiet in the bush all those birds and trees seemed pretty good and you wondered why you ever wanted to kill them, you even got to taking a cork and bottle down to call up the fantails for a closer look. The light coming through the leaves, God it was beautiful watching the eels and trout In the streams and even some fish you didn't know existed before.
..One day I took my paintbox down to the bush and made a few sketches and I felt good. I didn't want to come out It was like cool and green. The trickle of the clear water over the rocks was so soothing I would lie for hours just looking as the sun moved around and caught clumps of grass and leaves and turned them into green fire, how it moved over moss and stones, explored their surfaces and shapes and moved on. All this only five minutes walk from my parents' house, real luck and they didn't seem to mind my being away so long and so often. My mother was a keen gardener, I think she understood and my Dad was always in the basement. Anyway I guess they liked it better me bringing home paintings than dirt and guilt.
.. Well now I've grown up. If I root out any trees these days it's to put them on my own section. I'm trying to grow a bit of native bush for my kids, of course it won't be like the bush I knew and the birds will be a long time coming, if ever. There'll be no stream with grassy banks that's all underground now and dirty anyway. Maybe it I make enough dough I can make a pond at least for a few frogs. Although living near this damn big chimney and the Weed-killer factory it's pretty hard to grow anything, I think I'll buy Thomas a tree instead of an air gun. Or maybe I'll make a pool big enough to swim in, the beach stinks, what's left of it and the public baths play hell with my sinuses and always seem to give me athlete's foot. There's nowhere in town you can sit, only about 3 seats for 30,000 people and no trees for shade in the summer. You can't even see what time it is now they've pulled, down the old clock tower to make room for a car park. I sometimes sneak off over the footbridge by the railway and sit by the sea on a rock there. It's quite pleasant now the steam engines are gone. The park's a washout. Trees all sprayed with luminous paint and slot-machine fountains, notices all over the place telling you where to go and how much, full of people oohing and aahing at the coloured lights and paper-mache swans. Even a train running through the park I believe.
. . I like looking, at the sky a lot these days. Clouds are really beautiful and the sunsets with all this dust and smoke in the air are really something out of this world.