Michael Smither | Colour Can Be Sound

The Harmonic Chart by Michael Smither
Smither Harmonic Cube III
Stakeout by Michael Smither
Four Spectrums by Michael Smither
The Brancusi Poles by Michael Smither


The Wallace Arts Trust is thrilled to present a vibrant selection of artworks by Michael Smither – a perfect fit for summer at the Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre.

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.

Opening night special performance

Visitors will be treated to a performance by a 13 strong string orchestra on opening night. ARCO String Orchestra was formed in 2010 by Alex Taylor and members of the Auckland Youth Orchestra. ARCO will perform music by Michael Smither, arranged by Alex Taylor, as well as music by two late composers that Smither knew well - Larry Pruden and Anthony Watson. ARCO will also be joined by special guest bassoonist Ben Hoadley to perform Watson's Three Bagatelles for bassoon and string trio.

Smither's musical compositions explore a range of styles and colours, often taking very simple rhythmic and harmonic material and creating subtle patterns of repetition and phrasing. LC# (Light Cross) uses a limited palette of pitches – similar to a painter limiting his palette of pigments – to create a very distinctive harmonic world.

Further information: 


5 November 2013 - 2 February 2014

Opening Monday 4 November 2013, 6 to 8pm


The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre

72 Hillsborough Road, Hillsborough, Auckland

Written by

Wallace Arts Trust

29 Oct 2013

Located in the historic Pah Homestead in Monte Cecilia Park, Hillsborough, the TSB Wallace Arts Centre opened to the public in August 2010.