Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Street art - then and now: a look at how art makes history

Mating for Life, Charles & Janine Williams' giant mural, at 358 North Rd, is one of a growing number of street artworks in Kingsland and Morningside.
Mating for Life, Charles & Janine Williams' giant mural, at 358 North Rd, is one of a growing number of street artworks in Kingsland and Morningside.

Graffiti: it used to be the bane of businesses and something to be removed as soon as it appeared.

To be fair, tagging - the thoughtless scrawling of a name across a sign, fence or wall without a care for flair, style or the surrounding environment - remains a blight on the landscape, but when we talk about graffiti or street art, that's not what we're referring to.

Graffiti art tends to be the more stylised and colourful writing of a name; street art equals murals. These days, a growing number of businesses are embracing the two by letting graffiti and street artists use the exterior of walls of their buildings as giant canvases.

Just look at Kingsland where, says business society manager Christine Foley, businesses and residents have realised the area's street art is something to show off. With the Kingsland and Morningside Rail Corridor bisecting the area, it's got prime painting spots and some of the country's most prominent street artists have created work here.

So, when the annual Auckland Heritage Festival begins today, one of the first events is a step back to our not too distant past. Street Art Now and Then, led by prominent street artist and founding member of the 20 year old TMD Crew Jonny 4Higher, explores the colourful and important history of street art in Kingsland and Morningside.

As Jonny explains, modern graffiti reached New Zealand in the 1980s, through TV documentaries and early publications. Scrawled aliases began to appear in communities around the country; one of the most popular sites was the rail corridor through Kingsland and Morningside. He believes the first proper multi-coloured pieces were painted around 1982 by a young artist calling himself FLY, who started a trend.

The rail corridor was repeatedly "adorned" and the embellishments removed but, in recent years, they've become an accepted and valued part of the fabric of the area. In Street Art Now and Then, Jonny will explain how street art developed, moving from a blight on the landscape to a valued part of it.

There's a chance to see and hear about a number of murals including 428 New North Rd, close to the start of the Kingsland shopping strip, where Askew has paid homage to NZ artist Ralph Hotere; the Putangitangi ducks by Charles & Janine Williams; RTR's work at 599 New North Rd, a wall that has been repeatedly painted by the highly-respected Auckland graffiti crew and, more recently the giant The Divide dog fight depicted by Andrew J Steel at 2 Morningside Drive.

Jonny will also talk about Owen Dippie and Hipara August's Blue Lady mural, a reproduction of Vladimir Tretchikoff's painting The Chinese Girl. This year, graffiti bombers defaced the mural which, in itself tells a story.

Meanwhile, giant photos are set to dominate Kingsland next week. A series of huge photos will be hung from shop verandas as part of the Kingsland Project produced by commercial photographer Lee Howell. He has spent two years getting to know local characters and gaining their confidence before taking the photos which include portraits, street scenes and urban landscapes. They're on display in the shopping area or at local galleries on New North Rd for four days from Thursday.

What: Auckland Heritage Festival, Street Art - Now and Then
Where & when: Underneath The Divide mural, 2 Morningside Drive; today 2-3pm and October, 1 -3pm. Bookings required on 379-5553 or business@kingslandnz.com

- NZ Herald

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