Sheyne Tuffery is inspired by a desire to see Auckland reflect its South Pacific roots. LINDA HERRICK reports.

Ask Sheyne Tuffery about his favourite holiday spot, and he laughs.

"I don't want to sound like a struggling artist, but I don't have many holidays.

"When you're doing art, you're working all the time, long hours because you want to.


"But sometimes to get a bit of inspiration I'll get out of the studio and look around the city and start dreaming."

When Tuffery looks at central Auckland's skyline, he has a vision that it could be much more beautiful.

"It may be the biggest Pacific Island city in the world, but it doesn't look like it," he says.

"I'd like to change Auckland. I wouldn't want to knock down any buildings; I'd just like to put different roofs on them all."

He has done just that. A recent near-sellout show at his Auckland gallery featured paintings, woodcuts and a short computer-animated film called Paopao, in which a bunch of alien canines transform the Auckland CBD by capping the buildings with elongated fale roofs, a fantasy based on the fale (houses) of Samoa.

The film is an extension of Neopia, Tuffery's master of arts degree show he completed at Elam Art School in 2000.

Tipped as a rising star of the art scene, Tuffery - brother of artist Michel Tuffery - says architecture has increasingly inspired him since his second year at Elam.

His big influences are visionary Russian art-architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, known as "paper architects" because their designs were too intricate to build.

"They came to Wellington in 1991 with an exhibition of etchings and models and I was blown away," says Tuffery.

"When they graduated from Moscow's Institute of Architecture in the 70s, their style went against the architecture of communism, which was basically utilitarian blocks.

"They went to the opposite extreme and created imaginary buildings on paper which looked like the creations of [Antoni] Gaudi but more dark and futuristic."

Tuffery took a two-year break in the middle of his masters to travel around Europe, India and Mexico.

There, he also came under the influence of Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Tokyo's Kansai Airport and the Tjibaou Arts and Culture Centre in Noumea.

But Tuffery's vision is his own, partly shaped, he says, "by a confusion of cultural identity from my background of being part-Samoan, Danish, Irish and Scandinavian, and being a New Zealander".

His artist's statement says: "My work celebrates the afakasi, the halfcast - that confusion of not fitting into either side so you invent your own culture in art.

"Everything I see, feel and hear has an impact on my compositions, especially architecture and music."

Tuffery belongs to the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust, set up by Fatu Feu'u in 1996 to offer support to Pacific Island artists in New Zealand as they strive to hold on to their culture.

Cacophony, an exhibition shared with brother Michel, celebrated the colour and sounds of the cultural festival of Samoa.

But for now his sights are firmly fixed on his urban environment.

"Some architecture in Auckland is really cool but you've got to look for it and you have to pick your moments when the light is right.

"If you go around to Mission Bay and look back, you get a good idea of what Auckland is.

"When I walk around town, I'm imagining big monuments everywhere - I love looking up at things.

"Auckland needs more of a Pacific flavour, and I try to make the whole city look good in my paintings."