Michael Hight has shown with Gow Langsford Gallery since it opened in the late 1980s. Known widely for his realist landscape paintings, Return to the Miniature Garden follows Dreams of Children (2012) and Crossing The Line (2014) and is the third exhibition of newer ‘black paintings’ at Gow Langsford, which are gaining a momentum of their own.
As in earlier series’ childhood memory informs this body of work and a key reference for this exhibition is the miniature garden that countless New Zealand children had to make in the 1960s. Baking trays, tins and saucers were appropriated to make small, idealised versions of reality. The miniature garden was an act of making but also an act of scavenging and making do. Hight began his exploration of his now chosen technique of ‘black painting’ in 2008, noting a significant shift from his earlier iconic beehive paintings. The black paintings can be viewed as theatrical tableaux that feature memorabilia, historical moments and specific landscapes. Objects range from the absurd model of a C20 dreadnought battle ship to automata (wind-up toys) with their inferred staccato movements to an outdated telephone exchange. This series includes numerous scales with homely links to colonial kitchens and baking, and undercurrent issues of justice and the weighing up of how things were done.
Place is equally diverse. Kapuni Stream, a painting that juxtaposes kitchen scales with two pa sites, is the location of one of the earliest conflicts between Maori and Pakeha. Rakiura - Gog and Magog represents Stewart Island’s two remote mountains that were named after Celtic giants. Settings resonate from the rugged landscape of a central North-Island sheep station to a more picturesque view of Mt Taranaki from Pembroke Road. All paintings have an autobiographical element — none more so than Pohokura, which features the Aunt Martha’s ballpoint paint tubes that had mesmerised a young boy in the 1960s. Anecdote and memory circulate above both land and object to the extent the paintings are also the works of a storyteller who keeps secrets as much as he reveals. Yet standing before a musical toy or a green ridged hill is to step into your own anecdote and buffeting memory.
For further information on Hight, the publication Michael Hight: Crossing The Line (2014) by Michael Hight and Gow Langsford Gallery is available to purchase. It provides an overview of his previous works, with essays by Gregory O’Brien and Dr. Paula Green and includes a conversation between John Gow and Michael Hight.