Bay of Plenty-based artist Graham Hoete, aka Mr G, is set to return to his home town next week to continue working on a series of 100 rural portraits. Mr G talked with 48 Hours reporter Dawn Picken about the myth of overnight success and his passion to immortalise unsung people and places of his homeland.

When you're an international art star whose phone and Facebook accounts buzz with work offers, you don't have to take a 10pm phone call from a reporter in Papamoa.

Graham Hoete picks up, anyway.

Graham is in New Orleans for the American Bully Kennel Club Nationals when we speak.

He says organisers who saw his demonstration at a Sydney dog show flew him to Louisiana to paint.

Advertisement

"I love my dogs. I'm like a kid in a candy store."

That's how Graham describes much of his work life. The self-taught artist travels the world, taking on commissioned and unpaid painting.

Graham Hoete recently painted this mural on the Papamoa Vets building near Domain at the business owner's request. The painting is of Mr G's dog, Honey. Photo/John Borren
Graham Hoete recently painted this mural on the Papamoa Vets building near Domain at the business owner's request. The painting is of Mr G's dog, Honey. Photo/John Borren

He earned acclaim earlier this year for two giant murals in the United States: one of basketball star Steven Adams in Oklahoma; the other, of Prince in Minnesota.

Graham says he loves the States and would like to live for a season in New York City.

"I love the bigness of America, the diversity here. As with every culture, there are good and bad points and that's just the facts of life and human nature ... guard your heart and keep positive."

He says Americans struggle to discern his nationality as they survey his six-foot, five-inch frame, Polynesian-Maori looks and Kiwi accent.

"When I say I'm from New Zealand, they say, 'Is it by Australia?' and then they ask if I'm from England ... it's funny, and I'm very proud to be Maori as well and I think what I do is a great platform to just share my culture."

Graham performed a haka at the unveiling of the Prince mural in the late pop singer's hometown.

"Obviously that is something they don't see every day in Chanhassen."

Graham's biggest project these days is one he's doing for free between commissioned work.

Former Bay street artist Graham Hoete, also known as Mr G, performs a haka to Chanhassen, Minnesota, Mayor Denny Laufenburger as the city unveils a large mural of the musician Prince.

Mr G's 100 portraits project features everyday Kiwis in rural New Zealand in places like Kawerau and the place his mum hails from, Matakana Island, where he's already painted three murals (his father hails from Motiti).

He's been flooded with suggestions for new mural locations, especially after a story earlier this month on Seven Sharp.

Mr G and his wife have had offers of a fly fishing trip and accommodation in places like Marlborough Sounds, Milford Sound, Queenstown - "It's just gonna be a really great adventure."

The 100 portraits project will eventually become a book about the beauty of Aotearoa's rural landscape and character of its people.

"It's a great melting pot of Kiwiana there. I just wanted to leave my mark in New Zealand as an artist. I think this project has a nice level of honesty with stories and style. Also, paintings on some of these old homesteads and cow sheds capture a real grassroots beauty of New Zealand."

While the murals are a labour of love, part of what brings Graham and his wife back home after five years living in Sydney is paid work.

"I'm doing a huge project with a leading New Zealand retailer up and down the country."

He can't mention the company, but will start in February painting murals in stores for a three-year project.

Mr G has worked fulltime as an artist for 12 years.

"It's a bit of a myth that it's all of a sudden happened because it's always been progressive, always day by day persistently working at it and chipping away and slowly but surely the name gets out there. It hasn't really happened overnight, it's more of a progression of me pursuing my passion at the end of the day."

The artist has no tertiary education or art training beyond three years of classes at Kawerau College.

He holds talks and workshops for young people, stressing the importance of discovering and developing talents, regardless of how and where they're learned.

"Especially with the spray paint stuff I do, you can't learn that stuff at university. It's all self-taught and through pure trial and error and persistence and love for art. That's why I do what I do. I always believed as long as I keep that at the forefront of what I do, everything else will flow from there."

Mr G credits his wife of nearly 15 years, Melissa, for helping build the business.

Mr G painting a portrait of respected elder Tarere Wai O Rangi McMillan on the highest peak of Matakana Island. PHOTO/MELISSA HOETE
Mr G painting a portrait of respected elder Tarere Wai O Rangi McMillan on the highest peak of Matakana Island. PHOTO/MELISSA HOETE

"We always approach it as a team," he says. When not travelling, the couple live with Melissa's mum in Papamoa.

Melissa says: "We're looking to buy a house, but the market here has gone crazy."

She phoned me from the summit of the Mount, where she has become a regular. She often accompanies her husband and handles administrative tasks like scheduling and buying supplies.

Sometimes, she paints.

"I'm not an expert artist like him, but I can paint by numbers. With big jobs where there's lots of colour, I can colour in and that cuts down his time by half."

Melissa says she especially enjoyed meeting former rapper and TV star Ice T and wife Coco in 2012.

Her husband had spray painted a mural of the celebrity couple's beloved bulldog, Spartacus.

"Just that whole experience of going to New York. It's one of those places that are on your bucket list. We got to do it and meet celebrity people but just realising they're just normal people and down to earth. The whole experience was really cool for me."

She says it's a busy, but "awesome" life and is happy to return to the Bay.

"We always give back to home. It's our base, what we really love. We always make time for home."

Melissa says she and Graham would love to do 100 murals throughout the world eventually, but for now, they'll tick off locations near Mount Ruapehu, Palmerston North and the Marlborough Sounds.

Mr G tells young people and anyone who wants to know what drives him - life is short.

"You've really got to find and discover your God-given talents and once you've found them, just be dedicated to developing them. Art has the power to offend and it also has the power to heal, and it's just one of those things everyone can understand."

From Motiti Island to Minnesota, former Bay man Graham Hoete has unveiled his latest creation to hundreds - an 8m tall tribute to Prince. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
From Motiti Island to Minnesota, former Bay man Graham Hoete has unveiled his latest creation to hundreds - an 8m tall tribute to Prince. PHOTO/SUPPLIED