Michael Hight has received considerable critical acclaim for his observations of the ubiquitous beehive and their individual locales. These works contain all the particularities of location – geography, vegetation, weather. More than that they convey the idiosyncratic qualities of ownership and use and allude to a wider consideration of “place.”
Although Hight has produced works based in a number of regions, his paintings of Central Otago are undoubtedly the high point of his considerable achievements. Central Otago offers maximum contrasts of landscape (and season) with the placement and disposition of hives which best establishes a metaphor that goes to the substance of the New Zealand rural circumstance: the apparently empty, natural environment is in fact intensively farmed and industrialised. Bees are the primary insects domesticated by mankind. This has been for honey and (more latterly) pollination. In New Zealand no successful farm, orchard or vineyard can do without them. Yet while not a single bee has been painted the symbiotic relationship is evident.
Works such as Chatto Creek, Omakau and Daisybank exhibit Hight’s mastery of factual detail and comparison - the sculptural, totemic presence of the rectilinear hives with their surface characteristics and abstracted colour palettes sit (as they do) in the landscape their bees service. Hight takes the viewer on a journey through the communities of Central Otago. We wind through the rail trail from Daisybank to Galloway via Lauder, Omakau, and Chatto Creek, taking in Rae’s Junction in the south and St Bathan’s in the north through Gibbston Valley and on to Malaghans Road near Dalefield.
Manuherikia is a major accomplishment. Hight sets a piled detritus of separators, frames, lids and hives against the conjoined backgrounds of a Columbus Line container and the middle distance landscape of the Manuherikia Valley. He subverts his own sublime landscape with the poignant banal beauty of rural reality and function and in doing so sets up a myriad of commentaries on personal and communal circumstances and perceptions.