Memories of New Zealand’s Precious Trees and Birds
An interview with landscape artist Michael Moore
Artist Michael Moore grew up admiring the landscapes around the Wairarapa and has a deep respect for New Zealand flora and fauna, particularly our beautiful native trees.
He’s well-known for his minimalist-inspired depictions. He has exhibited nationally for more than 30 years and his acrylic and oil paintings appear in private and public collections around the world.
His latest exhibition at Artbay Gallery June 24th – July 12th showcases his newest artworks, featuring the distinctive tī kōuka (cabbage tree), nīkau (a native palm tree), braided rivers and a new subject for Michael, the kereru (New Zealand pigeon).
“Whilst it follows on from my earlier artworks, it is new. For most artists, their work is sequential – always moving forward on an ongoing quest to find their essence,” says Michael.
“Looking back, my work was more detailed, now I’m more pared down.”
Michael often works in series, re-visiting treasured trees and much-loved places. ‘Path of a Southern River IIII’ is a particular favourite from his new paintings collection. Painted from an imagined birds-eye view, Michael says he’s really happy with the forms and the path of the river in this piece.
Another favourite is the kereru series, which were inspired by the request of an Artbay Gallery client, who asked for a painting of one of Michael’s trademark trees, but with the addition of a bird.
“I said I would do it, but that it had to be a bird of my choice. They loved the resulting painting and I loved the opportunity to explore something different in my work. There’s several kereru in this collection.”
Michael’s love for nature is obvious. A self-professed ‘tree-hugger’, he often re-visits subjects.
“I’ve visited the same tī kōuka tree for twenty years. It’s 600 years old now and is sadly beginning to die, you can see the large split in its trunk.
“I’m a tree-hugging, tree-loving artist! They’re so quintessential and important in the New Zealand landscape. I keep re-visiting the same subjects, the same tree or trees and re-visiting how I see them. Things are changing, we are all changing.”
Michael says he painted tī kōuka (often known as cabbage trees) frequently between 1990 and 2000. During that time, he met renowned botanist Dr Philip Simpson, who has dedicated his life to studying and protective native trees and plants. Michael describes him as an early “front-line eco-warrior” and shared his concerns in those years over the loss of some of New Zealand’s oldest cabbage trees, which succumbed to insect attacks that were theoretically linked to climate change.
“I’ve also seen nīkau often fall victim to stock damage from wandering cattle, much like our waterways. I watch and observe these trees, which Maori call Tonga, treasures, they’re unique and special features of this land. I’ve sometimes seen improvements, but others, not so much. There’s a decline. But there is hope.”
Michael’s frequent visits to landscapes and trees are not just about hugging his favourite trees. He says his process is “in a sense, traditional”; he paints from in-the-field sketches and notes describing the time, place and mood. He takes these back to his studio and begins “the incubation process”.
“I’m interested in the power of memory. Gestalt theory suggests levels of consciousness, that can be brought back up. I think you feel that when you’re painting a piece that has something going for it.
“I start with a blank canvas and play with shapes in charcoal for a few days. It’s an internal/ external process. I will gradually move to paint, then something feels like it takes over. Sometimes there’s self-doubt, but I think the art works out better if you’ve had to work at it. Someone I studied with once told me that ‘working with the difficulty is part of the process’. So I forge my way towards it. I let go. It’s a liberation, to externalise these memories and feelings. It’s quite therapeutic in a way.”
Discover Michael’s latest artwork at Artbay Gallery’s Front Room space until July 12th. A selection is also available on Michael’s artist page. All artworks are for sale and Michael and our fabulous Art Consultants will be in the gallery to answer your questions.