Michael Smither

Dark Night of the Teapot


760 x 560 mm



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About this artwork

“This deceptively simple composition features just three objects placed on a tabletop, but the colour relationships are what make this work sing. The primary colours of blue and yellow are complementary colours, as are the secondary colours pink and green used for the plastic denture and the plane it sits on. In this way the painting’s components link together to make an unforgettable image. A composer and pianist as well as painter, Michael Smither is interested in the relationships between the visible spectrum of colour and sounds. Scanning a painting with your eyes should be like playing an instrument, where you hear the notes in succession. In that way, this is like an etude, a short musical piece, designed to keep playing in your mind. Contre-jour (French for “against daylight”) is a technique which artists have used for centuries to define objects in silhouette created by a light source depicted in the painting. Seventeenth century French artist Georges de la Tour is famous for his moody portrait of the penitent Mary Magdalene, seated at a table and gazing soulfully at the flame of a candle. Here the yellow teapot is a proxy for the human figure, alluded to in the title, Dark Night of the Teapot. The term “dark night (of the soul” in Roman Catholic spirituality describes a spiritual crisis in the journey toward union with God, like that described by St. John of the Cross. Michael Smither observes, “I grew up as a Catholic…, and probably the first influence for me were church art – the statues and holy pictures I grew up with… The Catholic symbols impressed me… At art school in the early 60s, I painted some religious pictures, such as Crucifixions – and that was very much frowned on! It was what I wanted to do because the ideas were so powerful.” Even though he has left the church, Smither retains the interest in symbolism – signs and portents – because of their ability to inscribe themselves in the memory. Although the yellow teapot is personified here into having a “dark night”, any solemnity is undercut by the presence of the partial denture in the foreground. Taken out for the owner to sleep, it rests on the table like a stand-in for its wearer’s smile. There’s a reminder of the artist’s earlier humorous depiction of teeth, such as Joseph Showing His Teeth (Joseph Snarling) 1977 where the artist’s son proudly displays his second teeth coming through pink gums.”


Image Size: 420 x 392 mm
Paper Size: 760 x 560 mm
Limited edition of: 82

Artist bio

“Michael Smither was made a CNZM in 2004 for his services to art.  It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the work and achievement of this New Zealand artist who shows us so much of where we come from and of what shapes us.”

– Helen Clark, former Prime Minister & Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage

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