Emerging new Māori digital artist Lloyd Matiu Whiri had experienced a lot of gang violence and poverty growing up in Whakatāne.
But the solo father of four wanted his tamariki to experience better memories than those of his past so moved to Dargaville to start a new life.
“Being a solo dad, meant I couldn’t really get a fulltime job,” Whiri, 32, told the Herald.
“By the time I had the kids ready for school and all the jobs that go with that, it was time to pick them up.
“Not being able to go to work because I was doing the kids was frustrating.”
But instead of moping around, Whiri took decisive action.
“I have five tamariki but have been raising four on my own for the past five years,” he said.
“So I thought I would do it myself and started drawing and selling it. People liked my designs and started putting [them] on clothes.”
Over the past 12 months, with the support of The Generator, Whiri has made a comfortable living and is now focused on a new venture: Digital Art, VIBEZ Create.
While things are looking up for the designer, it wasn’t always that way.
Growing up in a Black Power gang family, meant an often-empty fridge, alcoholism, drugs, violence, jail and poverty were staples for him. Not that Whiri blames his parents for the past. He loves them. They too were battling demons. It was generational.
A turning point for Whiri was the heartbreaking suicide of his best mate. Whiri then decided to use the trauma and pain of his past as an impetus for change and growth.
“I was brought up in a small town near Whakatāne called Waimana,” he said.
“It was a tough upbringing and I don’t blame my mum or dad for that but I saw a lot of things.”
The change for Whiri came when he saw a home for rent in Dargaville and decided to make a clean break from his former life.
“It’s not like I was a runaway but it was a fresh start for me and the kids,” he said.
“We have no family in Dargaville. It’s been a long lag, but I know my kids are having wonderful memories and that’s what I wanted.
“I miss my whānau but don’t want to go home. Life back there is hard.
“My parents were all good but the gang life was not something that I wanted for my kids.”
Whiri said many of his mates will still be living the life they were when he left.
“I want my mates to see I have made a break and change. I know my mum and dad are proud and a lot of my mates from home are as well.”
He is also his own worst critic.
“I don’t really like my art but others obviously do,” he laughs.
“But I am quite critical and draw what I am thinking and feeling so it goes pretty deep, but I am very happy I can make a good life my me and my tamariki from my art.”
Whiri wants to leave a legacy for his tamariki: a home of their own, stability, income and a future. Commendations from clients such as AWS affirm he is on the right track to achieving that.
Instead of victims, Whiri depicts himself and his tamariki as superheroes.
“I broke the chains of the past, picked it up and owned it,” he said.
He plans to transition his T-shirt side hustle to his children.
He exhibited and sold a large digital story of his life at the launch of Tika Pono Toi Art studio and gallery in Dargaville last month.