Michael Hight (b.1961) has a remarkable ability to capture the unique geographies of Aotearoa in vivid and immaculate detail. The artist’s latest series of paintings include the soaring snowcapped mountains of Mount Ngāuruhoe; the vertical clay cliffs that flank the Rangitīkei River; and the silhouette of Mount Ruapehu emerging from behind wispy low hanging cloud.
Hight’s landscapes are foregrounded by scatterings of diminutive structures; multi-coloured hive bodies stacked one upon the other, their lids secured by the weight of large rocks. These weathered beehives have become characteristic of the artist’s practice and shrewdly address the relationship between our natural and built environments. In Lower Parihaka Road (2023) a row of tī kōuka reach upward behind the hives, their splayed branches extending beyond the frame, while in the background an old farmhouse – with its boards of peeling paint and rusted awnings – offers further evidence of human occupation within the landscape.
While these paintings arguably depict an archetypal and romanticised version of Aotearoa, there is an interesting dynamic at play between those manmade interventions intended to design and control the land and its elements – windbreaks of trees, water tanks, sheds, and houses, undulating lines of fencing, sealed roads, and overhead cables – and the eternal indifference of the natural landscape, here overseen by the looming volcanic ranges that act as ever-present reminders of potential destruction.