A huge dark figure in a black jacket and camo shorts emerges from the gloom, hunched against the mist and rain, cradling a paper bag against his body.

He smiles and says, "Hey man".

He is 38-year-old artist Graham Hoete, better known as Mr G, and he is trying to keep his morning muffin dry while crossing a carpark near the Omokoroa ferry landing.

Mr G has been flat out with artistic projects in various parts of the world, and the Bay of Plenty Times has been chasing him for weeks. We've managed to squeeze in an hour before he catches the ferry to Matakana Island to see his mum.

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"Where can we talk?"

We go and stand under the dripping eaves of a closed cafe, but there's no flat surface on which to butter the muffin so Mr G suggests we shelter in the cab of his Toyota Hilux. It's parked near the ferry ramp and when we sit inside we can see all the way out to Matakana. Then the windows fog up, and we can barely see the jetty in front of us.

"It's just quality time with my mum," Mr G says of his trip out to the island.

"Spending time with loved ones is really important. You can't do it when you're gone."

Mr G's mother was originally from Matakana and has Ngai Te Rangi and Ngati Ranginui blood, but his Ngati Awa father built a house on Motiti Island.

"I consider Motiti to be my home," Mr G says.

"But Mum's on Matakana today and it's feijoa season, so she's going to teach me how to preserve them."

Mr G has cut the muffin into four neat quarters and is buttering it in his lap. He's talking now about his brother and two sisters, all older, and his belief that his creative side came from his father.

"He used to paint portraits with house paint and he made little boats and stuff out of driftwood and twine."

Mr G also remembers "sitting wide-eyed" at the kitchen table as his older brother drew pictures of heroes including Conan the Barbarian.

These experiences were "trigger moments" for the then-4-year-old, who attempted his first drawing with a felt tip. This was a rendition of a St Bernard dog, copied from an encyclopedia. The subject was prophetic, as Mr G was later to specialise in dog portraits.

Schooling mostly occurred at Kawerau College, where a gruff art teacher recognised his talent and urged him to pursue it.

"In the holidays I'd come back to Motiti and it was all fishing, diving ... no electricity, dirt roads ... cruising around on the back of tractors and horses."

Papamoa Pony Club
Papamoa Pony Club

Mr G has barely nibbled at his muffin. He turns on the ute so he can clear the windows with aircon, and the cab vibrates to the stereo system's deep bass. This is "the kind of music I like to listen to". He switches it off as he continues with his fond descriptions of Motiti.

"The food is all organic," he says.

"It feels like you've had a detox after a week over there. That's what Tauranga Moana is all about, man - the seafood, the beach life ... you should come out and we'll go diving."

As a teen, art had to compete with volleyball for Mr G's attention. He was good enough to represent New Zealand at age 17.

"Volleyball was high-commitment and art got shelved a wee bit, but in '98 I injured my back playing beach volleyball and picked up art again."

Christian beliefs were shaping his life, and it was through his work with a church group that he met his future wife Melissa, a Te Puke Pakeha with a chequered background.

"There was a night when she shared her story," Mr G says.

"She was a wild unit, man - or she used to be - but she'd made a real authentic change in her life. She was genuine."

Mr G got to know her better when they started running a youth group together.

"I thought, 'she's the one, man - I gotta catch this fish'."

Catch her he did, and she now helps manage his business. But we're jumping ahead.

Mr G decided at an early age that he would try to make a living from his passion. He started by drawing customised art on Converse's Chuck Taylor sneakers for a store in Bayfair. Converse got involved, he was featured in the Pavement youth culture magazine, and he "did some stuff for Nike".

Mr G
Mr G

Then he taught himself graphic design and got involved with logos and T-shirt art while developing a streetwear brand called Repz.

"I did all the designs from out of Tauranga and it ended up in 17 stores."

By now it was 2006, and he was about to have a meeting that would propel him into the world of street art.

While in Auckland for an interview with Pavement, he visited a streetwear store and met artist Charles Williams - known in Tauranga for painting a mural near the CBD waterfront with his wife, Janine, as part of the current street art festival.

"He talked about his work and I loved it," Mr G says.

"The size, the boldness of his pieces - everything about it screamed at me."

Mr G was a youth leader and a Christian. Street art was often illegal. He reconciled these opposing factors by practising on old bedsheets and large plywood boards before trying the wall of a dairy - with permission, of course.

One thing led to another and he was soon doing "a lot of commissioned work" while moonlighting as a graphic designer for Sun Media.

"I started trying to find out who I was as an artist in terms of my identity and what I wanted to communicate to the world. That's where the dogs-thing came in. My wife and I had a dog called Kicks, and a friend approached us to paint a portrait of a dog that turned out real nice."

There's another reason for the interest in dogs - the couple had tried unsuccessfully to start a family, and Kicks had almost assumed the importance of a surrogate child.

Mr G set out on a "Dogathon 100", which was simply a mission to paint portraits of 100 dogs.

"I got a few bites and then 3 News ran a pretty cool story on it and the minute it finished screening my email inbox went nuts."

He had so many requests for commissioned dog portraits he quit Sun Media.

Next was a "Celebrity Dogathon" starting with American canine behaviourist Cesar Millan. Mr G had no idea how to get hold of him, so asked TV3 reporter David Farrier to supply contact details in return for a free portrait of his cat.

Mr G performed a haka while handing Millan the portrait of his pitbull, Daddy.

"He was a cool guy, just soaking in the moment. A year later he flew to New Zealand and we caught up for lunch in Hamilton."

Next was Spartacus, a dog belonging to Ice T and Coco, but the project really took off when Millan posted the Daddy portrait on his Twitter page.

"I was flooded," Mr G says.

"That season sharpened and honed my portraiture. It was a real training time."

The mention of portraiture raises a question about Mr G's specialty. He's often described as a street artist, but he insists his interests are broader.

"I definitely love the spraypaint medium but I don't call myself a graffiti artist because I don't do illegal stuff," he says.

"The reality is that I'm a multidisciplinary artist - I've done more oils and portraits than I have street art."

Success came with challenges. A few months ago Mr G moved to Papamoa after a five-year stint in Australia during which he struggled with depression.

"Life can batter you sometimes and I went through a whole lot of stuff that was hurtful," he says.

"It's made me more compassionate, more empathetic."

Mr G enjoys communicating hope through art, but the rewards are also financial. He charged $1000 to $5000 for some early dog portraits, and now commands even higher fees.

"I'm fully booked for the next 16 months doing corporate stuff," he says.

"Those projects give me the freedom to do personal stuff."

The corporate stuff includes live demonstrations and painting murals on buildings in locations including Macau and Argentina.

One personal project is to paint 100 large portraits on prominent natural landmarks in New Zealand.

Among the first of these is a well-publicised painting of an ancestor on a cliff-face near Te Awamutu. The idea is to "highlight the relationship of Maori to the whenua, the land".

Mr G says the pinnacle of his career involved a mural tribute to Prince in the deceased pop star's hometown, Minneapolis, which "went wild on social media".

His artistic goals?

"To be iconic - big and beautiful."

The ferry is here and it's time to go. We shake hands and I step out into the drizzle. As I close the door, I catch one last glimpse of Mr G.

The artist has finished his muffin.