It’s an extremely exciting time for He Mana Toi Moehau Trust/Creative Coromandel, as we warmly welcome renowned Aotearoa art icon Michael Smither and his partner, artist G’ian McGregor to our whanau as our patrons.
Jan Wright, Chair of He Mana Toi Moehau Trust couldn’t be more thrilled to have Michael and G’ian as patrons of the Trust.
“Not only is Michael one of the most accomplished artists in Aotearoa, but he and G’ian live and breathe the arts. They have always been and continue to be staunch advocates of the arts and have dedicated their lives to fostering not only their own creative practices, but the creative practices of other artists. Their positive influence on emerging and established artists is astounding. We are absolutely honoured to have them as our patrons”.
Residing in Otama Beach, north of Kuaotunu on the Coromandel Peninsula since 1995, Michael and G’ian have built a beautiful nest of creativity in the picturesque spot. Having previously lived in Northland, Michael was introduced to Otama by well-known Kuaotunu-based artist Tom Mutch, former artist in residence at Birds Nest Studio. He spent five years at Otama on his own, before inviting G’ian to come and stay with him.
Both Michael and G’ian are firmly entrenched in their artistic practices, and have worked hard in the last 20 years to link the two sides of the Coromandel Peninsula together using the arts. They also advocate for the environment, proud ‘greenies’ that see themselves as kaitiaki (guardians) of the natural environment.
Beaches have always been an attractive place to set up home base, explains Michael. He spent considerable time at beaches in his home region of Taranaki, doing beach restoration work and finding inspiration for artworks that are now reaching record sale levels at art auctions.
“When I came here I started doing lots of walking up and down the beach, looking at what’s happening on the beach, and when G’ian arrived I said, here’s an opportunity for us to do something together”, says Michael.
For a period of time the two created ‘ecomages’, framed collections of beach treasures, capturing the ecology of the area. They exhibited these at the Upstairs Gallery in Whitianga, almost 20 years ago now.
G’ian is currently singing in the Mercury Bay Community Choir and has been involved in creative expression her whole life.
“I’ve had a very broad participation in the arts, I don’t think there’s any aspect of the arts I haven’t taken part in. My main instrument is my voice, and I’m a photographer. I’ve also done dance, filmmaking, singing and since living with Michael, screen printing and painting”.
Her artworks these days are an exploration of colour, play and the innate human cognitive ability to make decisions, reverting back to childhood play and experimentation. She’s currently working on a series entitled “Longitudes”, tall stacked blocks of colour, with a plan to exhibit at Hauraki House in Coromandel Town towards the end of the year.
Michael has just completed an exhibition at Miranda Farm Gallery, a co-exhibition with sculptor Warren Viscoe called “Two Masters”, and explains that the bizarre period of time Aotearoa spent in the COVID-19 lockdown was a challenge for him.
“You’re affected by these things in ways you really don’t understand at the time. I found it depressing and I think it probably had an effect on my work.
“There was a lot of fear around, you could feel it in the air. Normally I would manage to bypass it, but I found it really difficult, this sense of fear. So I just worked. Got the paints out everyday and worked”.
What has piqued his interest though, is the shows of good faith, the pockets of people coming together and trying to help each other.
“I think it’s revealed the aspects of human nature that you’d want to be interested in, like kindness”.
Michael didn’t produce any ‘lockdown’ themed paintings as such, explaining that when you get to be 80 years old you’ve thought about and absorbed a lot, and inspiration can come from anywhere. Where some artists focus on a particular event and strive to create a ‘work of art’ out of it, Michael’s methods are different.
“I think I’m one of those people that is so far out there when It comes to what’s going on in the world, that I’m just bathing in it really, I collect it [inspiration] as it comes past, use that bit, discard that bit… Every idea has a beginning, a middle and an end”.
Michael and G’ian are enthusiastic about their new role as patrons for He Mana Toi Moehau Trust/Creative Coromandel, citing the need for more artist-driven events and initiatives.
“We are interested in encouraging an approach to the arts in the Coromandel Peninsula that is driven by the artists. It takes a lot of courage to present your idea, it takes guts”, says G’ian.
He Mana Toi Moehau Trust is currently running an artist mentoring programme, pARTner Up, connecting creatives with experienced artist mentors, to help creatives take a significant step forward in their artistic careers. To contribute to the knowledge-share, Michael and G’ian will host a visit to their studio in the near future for mentors and mentees.
While G’ian is passionate about the idea of mobile/travelling arts festivals, saying that Coromandel in summertime is perfect for pop-up art events in tents and containers, Michael believes there needs to be more in the way of exhibition spaces on the Coromandel Peninsula, especially after the departure of Bread and Butter Gallery in Whitianga. They both agree that the ingredients for a great work of art are defiance, mystery and boldness.
“My idea of art is probably quite different from most people’s really,” says Michael, “I believe in art being something that lifts you, inspires you, that you live with and enjoy for the rest of your life. Not something that is temporary. My advice: Don’t give up. Keep working”.