People often ask me, “so how long have you been an artist?” I reply with the usual “I got my first sketchpad at 11 years old”. I think it’s a hard question to answer though, as there is something in me that has evolved naturally over time.
My first studio was amazing. It was an old horse stable that had been converted into artist studios in St Ives, Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Mine was number four in the back left corner of the courtyard. I loved it there, the landlords had eight wonderful cats and a little Jack Russell next door who was also called Tess. I spent four years in the UK in my early twenties doing the classic ‘starving artist’ gig. It changed me. Looking back I think of it as a positive struggle, stripping me of all I knew. I remember being so poor I couldn’t afford rent and food - let alone a canvas. My solution was to live in a tent so I could keep the studio.
And as far as a canvas, by chance, I had discovered an old broken mal surfboard discarded beside the road. It had the most amazing water markings. Perfect. I became so engrossed in creating a series of recycled surfboard sculptures that a year flew by. Three from the series ‘Sea School’ where exhibited alongside the works of Banksy, Black Le Rat, Swoon, Faile, Shepard Fairey and Herakut in Belgraves Gallery’s annual Urban Art show. From there the series went on to exhibit in a variety of galleries in the UK with some picked up by collectors.
I remember the morning like it was yesterday. My best friend had come to visit and bought terrible news - my hometown in Christchurch, New Zealand had been hit by an earthquake killing 185 people and injuring several thousand. I was half asleep and it took awhile to process but it was like reality slapped me in the face. I flew home as soon as I could. My family was lucky. My Aunt and Uncle had lost their house but like a miracle all of my family and friends were safe. Coming back to a city I use to know to a completely unrecognisable environment really affected me. I imagined losing the people I love so abruptly like many others had and it hit me. The connection I had with New Zealand was overwhelming. The grey environment that haunted the central city lingered as the months passed after the quake. I decided to do something to help combat that feeling. My work had always fitted into the “urban” style and I had been greatly influenced by the surroundings within the UK art world. I decided to paint a large scale mural with the intent to brighten up the city and make people happy.
The mural was called ‘The Hope Bear’. By 2013 it was clear that mental illness in Christchurch had been on the rise since the quakes. After witnessing the response from ‘The Hope Bear’ I could see that I was helping people. So I painted another mural, much bigger this time - ‘Giraffing Around’. Thanks to the Christchurch city council for realising the value. ‘Giraffing Around’ featured in Tony Robinson’s (AKA Blackadder) television show ‘Time Walks’ and also in Peter Young’s award-winning documentary ‘The Art of Recovery’. That year the Lonely Planet, Christchurch was labelled the street art capital of the world. Still, I wanted to do more, help more, create work with a purpose. It had become selfish in my mind to exhibit work just in a gallery.
One problem that Christchurch was facing during the earthquake recovery was waterway pollution, as many of the drainage systems had been ruined. I began documenting this problem through photography. This lead me all over Christchurch. I was at Sumner beach one evening looking for inspiration and I noticed a few of the drains were blocked. I began researching the impact rubbish pollution was having on our environment and the results I discovered changed my life. New Zealand’s Worth Loving came to life. I envisioned embarking upon a pollution awareness mural tour, which aimed to highlight the big issues of water pollution and it’s damaging effects on our wildlife. I wanted to inspire action as well as painting these large scale murals so I teamed up with some amazing charities and initiatives; Sustainable Queenstown, Our Seas Our Future, Gap Filler, Avon Ontario Network, Keep New Zealand Beautiful and Sustainable Coastlines. We celebrated the completion of each mural with a clean up event. I teamed up with Ross French, a friend with a passion for filmmaking, and we hit up every major city in New Zealand. We believed that the only other way to connect with people about this serious issue, apart from being directly in front of the mural, was to connect on social media, so each mural was filmed for this purpose. The New Zealand’s Worth Loving tour took three years to complete. We had such amazing support from communities around New Zealand as well as from our sponsors and various councils. In August 2017, we won an award from the Canon Oceania Grants - Inspiring Tomorrow. After recently finishing the fifth and final mural in Wellington’s CBD I am excited to learn and grow in the future.