Bay of Plenty artist Graham Hoete has been nominated for Te Waipuna-a-Rangi Award for Arts and Entertainment, to be announced today at the 2018 Matariki Awards at the Auckland Museum. He talks to Sarah Pollok about what inspires him.

Can you trace back to a moment you decided to go all-in as an artist?

I've been full-time for around 13 years now but at the time I didn't say, "I'm gonna go full-time artist, quit my job, and take the leap". I was real practical about that transition. Fortunately, I was a graphic designer at the time and my boss kind of allowed me to incrementally transition . She was really supportive and could see the potential in me, so she let me go from working five days to four to three to, eventually, doing art full-time.

Is there one piece of work that has been particularly significant to you?

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One of my favourites was a cliff face I painted out at Owairaka Valley last year. I love doing things that are totally different and "out there". That one in particular, it was a painting of a local tohunga, a chief, and the portrait of him on a cliff face just kind of highlighted the connection he had with the land. Most people would have driven past that cliff and thought nothing of it but, as an artist or visionary, I'm always seeing potential canvases and just thought, 'Whoa, I could transform that into something pretty epic."

How do you choose the people and places?

I guess even this one recently that I've done, a portrait of Leonard Cohen on a house, I thought, "Oh well, he's not a Kiwi" and all that sort of stuff. But the thing is, it's painted here in my hometown and it's just something really different, which is what I'm all about.

Graham Hoete, right, and his Leonard Cohen portrait on the Tauranga home of Tom Zonneveld.
Graham Hoete, right, and his Leonard Cohen portrait on the Tauranga home of Tom Zonneveld.

You are working on a book, 100 Portraits. How did it come about?

My background is portraiture and I love painting beautiful portraits in obscure remote locations. There's one I painted on Chatham islands last year, and there's absolutely no one around, just birds and wildlife but that's the beauty of it. I like really remote locations and how people might be going hunting for pigs or whatever and find this portrait. I've built a bit of a collection so I'm just chipping away at it. I just wanting to leave my stamp here in Aotearoa while I'm alive.

It's classic for creative people to never feel fully satisfied with work they've completed. Is it something you identify with?

Absolutely. You just need to ask my wife. I'm a perfectionist, so when it comes to my work and stuff, yeah, it's got my name on it, too, so every piece that I paint is a reflection of who I am. Being a portrait artist, you know you've gotta have that, that's important, just in respect to the person you're painting and the family. But yeah, one of the things I love about painting or about art is just being able to tell a story.

So do you feel you can get over perfectionism because it's about something bigger than just you?

You know, for me I just love and enjoy painting. I just like to invite people along into that journey, especially a lot of aspiring artists. I'm just trying to inspire or encourage them to think outside the box, think big, without limits or boundaries.

It must be easy to always be looking at what's next and never recognising how far you've come?

Actually, when I was at college, it was actually my art teacher, he just told me quite blank straight, "Graham, you've got a gift mate, you've got something very special, and you need to develop that." He told me he'd been showing a lot of my art, my drawings, to the senior students and I was third form at the time... it just really spoke to me. I guess that moment just imbued some self-belief as well.