New Zealand painter Michael Hight (born 1961), is a self-taught artist and has been painting prolifically from the age of fourteen. His earlier work could be termed as abstract, involving chance elements and uncertainly of outcome.
Michael Hight was born in Stratford New Zealand and gained a Bachelor of Social Science from the University of Waikato in 1982. He has exhibited since 1984 and has been a full-time artist since 2001. His work is held in many New Zealand collections, both private and public, including The James Wallace Trust, The Chartwell Collection and the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.
However, his oeuvre changed in the early 2000s, to an almost realist style, when Hight began working on his ‘Beehive paintings. Structures of multi coloured beehives are depicted in large open New Zealand landscapes; often farmland, but also nestled beneath mountainous ranges or tucked alongside tussock, derelict rusting sheds, or disintegrated cars. These are such recognized scenes amidst the New Zealand landscape and can be placed alongside earlier Regionalist New Zealand Painters, such as W. A. Sutton or Russell Clark.
In his later Black Paintings, (known as such because of their black background), the New Zealand landscape is still rendered realistically, but also almost treated as part of a mystical still life. Mountains or rivers are miniaturized and placed in a tableau of still life objects, within a shelf or grid type structure. Within these modular compartments, lie objects of memory, all infused with a clarify of light and darkness, beautiful composition and a magical stillness. Seed silos and snow laden beehives, cowbell, weights and hooks, the objects of rural life embody like jewels against the dark black background. These landscapes sit alongside broken, rusted or everyday objects; a bee smoker, a macrocarpa stump with steps and at the other corner, an antique toy. Although painted realistically, each objects’ size is uniform, giving the work an almost magical, surreal or fantasy quality. There appears to be some aspect of systematic enquiry also, as though the artist (as scientist) labels, identifies and renders each object, which he may have found fossicking around a second-hand store, as something extraordinary within the tableau.
Alternatively, within these ‘Black’ paintings, such everyday objects can loom large over panoramic New Zealand landscape. In the work, “The Crooked Mile-Ohingaiti," 2015, a large broken cornet sits atop the Rangitikei River, acting as a vertical break within what is otherwise a horizontal landscape. Hight is a prolific collector of objects from second hand stores, and one wonders, was the cornet picked up in such a manner, possibly from the Ohingati area or picked later from a collection shelf in Hight's own studio; the broken cornet related to the crookedness of the bend in the Rangitikei river.
The black background of these works, at times, seems to stand as a way of placing the landscape and composition away from any aspect of time or space. In this way, the painting may refer to Hight’s childhood memory or dream or a longing for the objects and places that the artist holds dear.
Many of Hight’s works have New Zealand rural place names as titles, (for example, ’The Canterbury Plains’ 2015, or ‘Tapuae- O- Uenuku,’ 2019). These names are used not only to describe the area depicted, but also the theme of the work. For example, all of the objects in Canterbury Plains, somehow relate to the artists depiction of Canterbury in some way. In other words, the title is not merely descriptive or literal, but can portray the symbolism and almost magical realism within the work.
With all Hight’s work it is the incredible skill of his painting technique that makes these works shine with depth, meaning and intensity.