In the uncommonly moving seventh episode of Wellington filmmaker Tony Hiles’ documentary series celebrating the creative skills of his friend, Michael Smither, he finds the renowned artist returning after 40 years to portraiture.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2016
The seventh episode in NZIFF’s long-running serial, Tony Hiles’ planned ten-part series about his friend Michael Smither, sees the 77-year-old artist setting aside increasing health issues to take on a series of larger-than-life oil portraits. Starting in 2014, Smither has been asking people from his daily life to sit for him. Though he stays away from the internet himself, he cites the images of atrocities in the Middle East to be found there as his stimulus. Counterposed to those barbaric images, his ‘head shots’ will transcribe the experience and vitality in faces he knows well.
Though admitting to constant pain and depleted stamina, he remains engagingly stimulated by the world and his own place in it. He contrasts the current portraits with the landscaped faces he portrayed in the 70s and 80s. The new work is much less about the painter than the painted, he contends, about one human being looking at another human being, and often seeing the younger spirit within the well-worn face. This observation reverberates as we watch him position himself ‘in the same light’ as he has placed his sitters to paint a self-portrait, a moving expression of vivid and tenacious self-awareness.