Michael Smither CNZM is best known as a painter of gritty, realistic domestic scenes, and for creating modern icons of New Zealand landscape features like Mt Taranaki and Mercury Bay. Less well known is his parallel career as a musician and composer, which he has continued to pursue while earning his living primarily as a painter, sculptor and printmaker.
Precociously musical as a child, Smither recalls playing Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee on the piano at his primary school breakup in New Plymouth, and enjoying playing Chopin at breakneck speed.
Smither has experienced the neurological phenomenon of synaesthesia, in which the person may register sounds as colours. Key childhood events stimulated his interest in the sensory overlaps between colour and music. One was seeing Walt Disney's 1940 film Fantasia for the first time, with its animated impressions of musical phrases, shown as lines and colours, jumping about on the screen in time with the classical soundtrack. From this point on the idea that sounds can be represented visually became a major fascination, one that Smither has returned to throughout his artistic career. At the same time, strong, vivid, and sometimes even garish or lurid colours have always been characteristic of his visual art production.
Colour Can Be Sound explores the relationship between sounds and colours, bringing together a group of paintings, screenprints, and sculptures that document Michael Smither’s intensive studies of this relationship over the past five decades. Included are works from Smither’s Polyphonic Harmonies series, for example The Harmonic Chart (1984) – an abstract image which shows how the artist has mapped the twelve notes of the Western musical octave onto the colours of the spectrum – as well as three-dimensional ‘harmonic cube’ sculptures, and new works that continue Smither’s investigations into the ways in which we perceive sound and colour.
Joyride features two audio visual works by Seung Yul Oh. These are The Ability to Blow Themselves Up (2013) and Joyride (2012).
The Ability to Blow Themselves Up is an ongoing series of works originally begun by Seung Yul Oh in 2003, which document people in different stages of the process of blowing a balloon up until it bursts. The latest works in the series have been specially commissioned for exhibition at the Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, and for acquisition into the Wallace Arts Trust Collection.
To make this new series of works Seung Yul co-opted visitors to the Pah Homestead as willing participants, asking them to allow themselves to be filmed while performing the unpredictable and scary act of blowing up a balloon until it literally exploded in their faces. Needless to say this is quite a leap of faith for the participants, resulting in some psychologically revealing and often hilarious images. The participants’ faces express effort, anticipation and anxiety as they inflate the balloon to the point of explosion, followed by the dramatic release of tension in the moments after the balloon bursts, often accompanied by bursts of relieved laughter from participants and observers.
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