Thursday, April 30, 2009

10,000 hours

There’s a theory around that to be an expert at something you first need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. That’s not to say you will be showered with gold or put to the front of your particular queue, but it is the number of hours you need to put in to make a stand beyond the accomplished. This idea came to mind when we dropped in on Michael Smither who now lives in Otama Beach at one of the gravel road-ends of the Coromandel. It was Easter, Michael is 70 this year, we were visiting and he still managed to put in three or four hours in the studio every day. Consider, 10,000 hours is five years at three hours every day of the week.

Many years ago when we were working on a survey exhibition with Michael, he told us how he had fallen in love with the romance of painting via Gully Jimson, the lead character in Joyce Cary’s novel The Horse’s Mouth. The book is a bit of a struggle now (although we bet Mike has a well-thumbed copy somewhere) as it comes from an era when romance and art were more sympathetic bedfellows, but for a time Jimson was the epitome of what it was to be an artist - outrageous, outcast and out of money. Criterion has issued the DVD of The Horse’s Mouth starring Alec Guinness (the movie was made in 1958, the year McCahon painted the Northland panels). The paintings shown in the film are predictably a Matisse Picasso mash-up made by John Bratby (Te Papa has a painting, Auckland Art Gallery four paintings and four drawings) and Jimson is a bit hard to take even with Guinness’s subtlety, but it’s an entertaining time machine into another world of art. You can see an image from the film The Horse’s Mouth featuring one of Bratby's paintings here.

There are certainly interesting points of intersection between Gully Jimson and Mike Smither if you look for them. In the 1970s, with his 10,000 hours well behind him, Smither, like Jimson, painted a set of religious murals. Unlike Jimson who destroyed his own mural with a bulldozer, Smither got to see one of his painted out by the church. Times change.

Image: Michael Smither in his studio in 2009.