Artist Dan Tippett is a maestro of the spray can. He talks to Angela Barnett.

Dan Tippett uses a spray can like a conductor uses his baton: expertly, effortlessly, and the result is mesmerising. Tippett's one of our legendary aerosol artists, described by John Campbell once as "a premier artist" but the Aucklander would argue his craft's never seen as premier. "Because you use a spray can you don't get classed as an 'artist'."

Tippett's career, spanning 20 years, is as massive as some of his murals including Auckland's Te Atatu tunnel, Mangere Bridge and Soho Square. DT, as he's known, has also created film and television sets, vinyl covers, Fat Freddy's Drop albums and animation, a fleet of vans in LA and NZ, and music video backdrops, yet he knows graffiti art still has some hang-ups.

"It doesn't matter how old or good you are, if you're doing a mural in public people come up and say 'nice work boys'." Recently, painting the cycle underways for Transit NZ, DT and his mate, heard "good morning men". "We nearly dropped dead. Nobody had called us men before. The stereotype's still there."

DT's smashing stereotypes by coming indoors for the first time in five years with his exhibition, Out Standing In My Field.


The name, he explains, from his brother Ben's studio in Grey Lynn, is partly about being an outsider. The brothers grew up dividing their time between the Coromandel and Grey Lynn.

Tippett in front of the mural he was commissioned to paint at the back of the Kingsland Station in Sandringham in 2011. Photo / Greg Bowker
Tippett in front of the mural he was commissioned to paint at the back of the Kingsland Station in Sandringham in 2011. Photo / Greg Bowker

"When we lived in the country we were called city kids and when we lived in the city we were called country kids." When DT joined the graffiti art world at 21, with an oil painting background, he was an outsider too. "I was painting birds and trees and it wasn't acceptable in the scene because back then it was writing, tagged up pieces. But the guys were innovators and allowed me to fit in. I did backgrounds, painting nature and landscapes. In essence we created our own movement. I think of it as indigenous New Zealand hip-hop graffiti."

The name of the show is also a nod to life as an artist, "Sometimes you feel like you're out standing in your field; you're on your own."

Plus it's a dig at what DT calls our "Me/I culture . . . the endless self promotion on social media instead of putting in the hard yards."

DT, though he is on social media, believes in hard work to reap the goodies. "Street art's become a viable occupation for people who are good, with commercial and community projects. We're out in the fields, maraes, schools, prisons, shops. Doing art for the lower end of the community has been a privilege, pleasing grannies and kids who are not regular art patrons."

Choosing the spray can over the paintbrush caused some disappointment though, "Some people thought I should stick at oil painting."

His father was potter Warren Tippett, and his mother, Jill Pierce, is an art lover and DT wanted to be an artist from age 10. "When you're young, your youthful arrogance dictates that you're good but when you look back you realise you weren't that good. Now I've got to the stage that I like what I'm doing but it has to be more than about your ego. You have to find a bigger reason. Whether it's doing a tree to represent nature, or a taonga to represent culture or acknowledging the beauty of where we're from: kotahitanga (unity), inclusiveness and freedom."

"I'm a proud of being from here, I like to be involved in the consciousness of New Zealand. That's how I see my art - part of that weave.


Out Standing In My Field
until May 29, endemicworld, 62 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby