DUNEDIN STREET ART

UNESCO has designated Dunedin a “City of Literature”. This is not surprising as it is home to New Zealand’s oldest university and the country’s first polytechnic which is now regarded as one of the best in Australasia. On top of this, four of the city’s secondary schools are among the most prestigious in New Zealand.Dunedin is also home to New Zealand’s first art gallery and first public library and some of the finest museums in the southern hemisphere.

Dunedin City

If this wasn’t enough to establish Dunedin as a cultural dynamo, my home town is also noted internationally for the finest collection of Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the southern hemisphere (along with Melbourne). However,  a number of large industries have left the city in recent years and the pace of growth has caused it to slip from the country’s 4th major city to its current position of 6th. This has resulted in a number of inner city buildings being abandoned. It wasn’t a good look and for a time, the empty buildings began to decay and look unattractive. However, being a resilient lot, someone came up with the idea of introducing street art to brighten up these building and to add some colour to the ‘Warehouse Precinct’ as this area is now called. Dunedin’s many low rise warehouses with their plaster and brick walls were ideal for the application of colourful murals.

POPULARITY OF STREET ART

People have been drawing on walls for 40,000 years and in the 1950s well executed urban murals started to appear on the Berlin Wall where the western side became a magnet for politically inspired graffiti. The craze then moved to New York and today, street art has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon.

STREET ART ARRIVES IN NEW ZEALAND

Kiwi couple Charles and Janine Williams are World Graffiti Art Champions and have created wonderful bird images on walls in Auckland, Tauranga and Christchurch, as well as walls in cities overseas. Dunedin councillors were impressed with these bird images and wanted to embrace this art form so put out a request for artists to decorate some walls around the inner city. Artists from Belgium, Argentina, Poland, China, Australia, Italy, Britain and South Africa responded. Local Kiwi artists also took up the challenge to create the colourful murals and Dunedin currently boasts 28 works of art around the central city. A Street Art Trail has been recently introduced and has become yet another attraction for the growing number of tourists visiting the southern city.

ROA was the first international artist to leave his mark in the form of a reclining tuatara on the side of a small building in Bath Street just a five minute walk from the heart of the city.

Reclining Tuatara

The 41 year old Belgian likes to work in black, grey and white and specializes in birds and animals that have relevance to the country he is working in. His murals also grace walls in numerous cities in Europe, USA, Asia and Australia. The tuatara in Dunedin is his only New Zealand mural.“Graffiti is free expression and it liberates yourself creatively from a lot of restrictions.” he said in an interview on Fatcap.

English artist Phlegm started as a comic illustrator and likes to create outlandish creatures from his imagination. Some border on the menacing but all have undeniable eye appeal. This guy has left 5 of his designs on Dunedin walls. My favourite is the fish eating ships.

Like ROA, Phlegm tends to use grey, black and white. His other mural that appeals to me is the “Songbird Pipe Organ”. I personally would’ve liked to see some more colour in this piece but I have to admit, there is plenty to gaze at so for this reason, it is a truly impressive example of street art. Have a good look at the image and you will see what I mean with so much happening in it.

Songbird Pipe Organ

Chinese artist DALeast (where do they get these crazy names from?) has created a piece that impresses me with its delicate design. Although, again lacking colour, his Haast’s Eagle has been beautifully executed. Extinct for 600 years, the huge, ferocious eagle is portrayed diving on its prey. The bird is made of twisted wire and as it hits the ground it disintegrates with fragments trailing behind it. The artist was inspired to create this amazing mural after visiting the Otago Museum and discovering the story of the world’s largest eagle that existed only in the South Island and possibly ate the giant moa, also an extinct species.

Haast’s Eagle

Italian artist, Pixel Pancho likes working with colours and creates robotic creatures to convey the feelings he has for different environments. Pixel uses a variety of mediums such as tiles, wall painting, sticker/poster art and more. His Dunedin work “Riding the Dreams” is a change from the other murals around town as its positioned across a light coloured background. I guess this is one reason it stands out so well.

Riding the Dreams

Pixel’s amazing murals grace the walls of buildings in many cities around the world but I see he uses his Dunedin work in all his promotions so he must be pleased with his effort.

As a world first, Pixel and Phlem worked together to create a surreal battle between Pixel’s robots and Phlem’s distinctive dreamlike creatures. To be honest, it’s not one that I find particularly eye catching, but as I say, it is a world first collaboration by these two important street artists.

FEMALE ARTISTS

Having spoken to other Dunedin folk, Polish artist Natalia Rak’s “Love is in the Air” is possibly the most popular of all the murals gracing the city’s walls. It is simple in its construction and the message is very clear. It is also cute and colourful and I have to say, I think it is one of my favourite murals too.

Love is in the Air

Natalia is unique in being one of the few female street artists currently working for commissions. She likes to portray female faces and expose feminine emotions in her work. To me, “Love is in the Air” has a very feminine look in the softness of the pose and her choice of warm colours.

Another female street artist brightening urban walls is local girl Emma Francesca who has created a rather cute mural for the Dunedin collection. Her “Empress of the Penguins” also has a very feminine look and is her first piece of wall art. It has been embraced by the locals who are impressed with her artistry. The way she has used the unpainted bricks to form a column and placing a fern in an old iron pot, is inspirational and I’m sure more of her work will appear on Dunedin’s walls in the not-too-distant-future.

Empress of the Penguins

The Dunedin Street Art Trail has become a popular attraction for visitors, as well as locals, with more than 10,000 maps printed. Some of the other murals on offer don’t do much for me but it’s all about personal taste and like any exhibition, some will appeal, some won’t. As more murals are added, Dunedin will continue to attract the world’s top street artists that in turn, will help inspire Emma and the other 7 local artists whose work add eye appeal and interest to the city’s Warehouse Precinct.

Ceidrik Heward

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