A man who has been in and out of prison since he was 15 is holding a solo art exhibition in Whangarei although his parole conditions may prevent him attending his own show.
Simon Allen Kerr, who founded the bank-robbing "Hole in the Wall Gang", has more than 160 convictions and a criminal history spanning 35 years. But, he says he has finally turned his life around thanks in part to his love of painting - discovered during his most recent spell in prison.
The aptly named Roads to Redemption exhibition, showing from November 22 at Whangarei Art Museum, takes the audience on a journey through Mr Kerr's life, from his dysfunctional childhood to his criminal life, prison escapes and subsequent self-reflection.
"I am literally a casualty of my own actions," Mr Kerr said. "I am messy because of that fact. But in saying that I am mindful that I am also a response to a childhood that had its own realities that were out of my control. I'm messy because of that too."
Mr Kerr's infractions over the years include stowing away on a cargo ship to Australia having escaped Mt Eden Prison, and an escape from Paremoremo prison. In 1994, he mounted a 13-day rooftop turret protest against remand conditions in Mt Eden that ended with the armed offenders squad forcibly bringing him down.
His most recent stint in Ngawha's Northland Region Corrections Facility came after he was sentenced in 2013 to six-and-a-half years' jail for burglary and theft from a Dargaville ATM, which netted $112,000.
He had been on the run for two years when he was arrested and was granted parole on October 5 this year. As part of his parole conditions he is not allowed to enter Whangarei, Auckland or Dargaville, meaning he will need special permission if he wants to view his exhibition.
Sheree Edwards, exhibition curator and owner of Jetsom Artspace in Kerikeri, has acted as an artistic mentor to Mr Kerr since she first saw his work early this year.
"I immediately fell in love with his raw natural talent and these incredibly dramatic and bold paintings, and also the determination of Simon and [his partner] to better their lives," she said.
Mr Kerr had previously exhibited at No.1 Parnell Gallery; Depot Artspace in Devonport; and is showing pieces at Jetsom Artspace as part of its Emergent exhibition.
He is working towards a solo exhibition at Jetsom in January.
"He has the ability to communicate his life experiences in a raw and honest way," Ms Edwards said. "His works are dark and playful, spontaneous yet purposeful, with the important element of self-reflective humour."
Mr Kerr said he was less interested in learning the technical side of painting.
"I don't have any desire to be a painting expert. In fact, I am active in dodging that bullet. I don't want to copy things or lives for that matter. For better and worse I have my own life story to tell and my own observations of the world to blurt out," he said.