Michel received a Diploma in Fine Arts (honours) from the School of Fine Arts at Otago Polytechnic in 1989, before undertaking further study at the University of Manoa in Hawai‘i. He has since exhibited extensively around New Zealand and internationally. In addition to receiving several national and international art awards, public commissions and residencies, Michel also has work in major collections internationally. He was notably the first Polynesian to have work acquired by The British Museum. In 2008, Michel was awarded a
Based in Wellington, Michel’s practice spans printmaking, sculpture, performance art, painting and design, new media and animation. His work grows out of a passion for his Samoan, Rarotongan and Tahitian heritage, as well as his heartfelt relationship to the Pacific region, its people and the environment. Often this manifests in the use of traditional motifs and materials, as well as contemporary Pacific references. Corned beef, a staple in Samoan gift-giving practices and feasts, is a reference that appears in a few of Michel’s sculptures. His celebrated mechanical sculpture, Pisupo Lua Afe (Corned Beef 2000) — a bull made from flattened strips of corned beef tins — parodies the prevalence of this imported food product in traditional island life. Pisupo Lua Afe is one of a number of sculptures Michel made based of the form of cattle.
In 1997, Michel orchestrated a performance in which two corned beef bull sculptures were paraded through the city streets before engaging in a mock bullfight. Recently, Michel’s practice has focused around the use of laser impressions, digital imagery, computer technology and creative collaborations. For his seminal work, First Contact, 2007, Michel collaborated with Anton Carter, Michael Bridgeman and Daimon Shwalger — along with students from two local Wanaka primary schools — to produce a giant multimedia work that was projected onto the outside walls of Te Papa, Wellington. Exhibited as part of the 2012 New Zealand International Arts Festival, First Contact re-examines historic encounters between European and Indigenous people of the Pacific. First Contact is also the name of an ongoing body of work that similarly looks at 18th century Pacific history. In particular, Michel focuses on Cook’s relationship with the Pacific peoples he encountered. Tupaia, believed to be the first Polynesian to use western art mediums, also features prominently. This series includes a range of art forms, including paintings, prints, drawings, bronze sculpture, time based media installation and architectural projections.
Michael has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including: Simiani Samoa, Carriageworks, Sydney, 2015; Made in Oceania: Tapa Art and Social Landscapes, Rautenstrauch Joest Museum, Koln, Germany, 2014; Samoa Contemporary, Pataka Museum, Porirua, 2008; Pasifika Styles, University of Cambridge Museum, UK, 2006-2008; Across Oceans and Time, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan, 2007; Le Folauga, Auckland Museum, 2007; News from Islands, Campbelltown Art Gallery, 2007; Paradise Now?, Asia Society Museum, New York, 2004 and Mata Mata Phusion, Auckland City Art Gallery, 2002.