Rubber gloves
Michael Smither


Michael Smither
Rubber gloves
Production date:
Accession No:
1195 x 1280mm
Oil on hardboard

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Purchased from Monica Brewster Bequest in 1978.

Michael Smither is well known as a painter of domestic life. Smither’s art has always been rooted in what he knows best and he is an obsessive observer of his immediate environment and the ebb and flow of family life. However, far from the distanced observation of the documentary photographer, Smither is a participant in the domestic dramas he captures in paint. With Rubber Gloves, Smither focused his attention on a pair of dishwashing gloves, peeled off and discarded on the kitchen bench. Smither doesn’t often arrange objects for his still life paintings but rather records things as he finds them, allowing the items of daily life to provide a commentary on the events and incidents that positioned them.

Rubber Gloves elevates the banal to a heroic scale; at over a metre in width and height, the exaggerated size of the gloves endows them with monumental significance. Observation becomes a confrontation. The clarity of Smither’s hard-edged painting style gives a crisp focus over the whole surface of the work which endows it with peculiar intensity. Unlike the overt stylisation of many of his other paintings, Rubber Gloves has been made with painstaking attention to detail.

The letter ‘s’ on the cuff of the glove indicates, ironically, that they are a of a small size, but is also a clue that Smither’s then wife Elizabeth was the dishwasher. There is a sense of tension or unease in the painting. The gloves are flaccid, deflated. The cheerful yellow normally associated with rubber gloves has become greyish, slightly jaundiced. One glove has been draped on top of the other in a clammy embrace of crumpled rubbery fingers. This small commonplace detail elevated to grand proportions reflects the fact that domesticity is the stage, and domestic objects are the props, with which our emotional lives are played out.