Message in a mural

Gisborne woman Kelly Spencer to takes on large-scale project.

Gisborne woman Kelly Spencer to takes on large-scale project.

SEA WALLS: Coordinator for the Sea Walls Tairawhiti project, Kelly Spencer, is happy to both be back in the coastal town she calls home and to be part of a major project that brings global influences to Gisborne murals. Kelly is pictured here in front of Swiss duo Nevercrew’s work on the Te Rau Print & Copy building’s wall. Picture by Liam Clayton

With the Pacific as our big, blue backyard, Gisborne was a natural choice for an ocean-themed mural project co-organised by illustrator, muralist and signwriter Kelly Spencer. Based in Wellington, Kelly still calls Gisborne home. This is her story, by Mark Peters . . .

A one-month artist’s residency with Wainui Beach-based screenprinter Tony Ogle inspired Gisborne woman Kelly Spencer to take on a large-scale project.

She had worked on various outdoor projects as a solo artist but this time she wanted to go big and go big she did. Rather than propose a sole-effort mural she contacted Hawaii-based organisation PangeaSeed Foundation to discuss bringing multiple artists from various disciplines to Gisborne to create a series of murals.

“I knew about PangeaSeed’s Sea Walls movement and I’d been to Napier to see the 2016 Sea Walls works there,” says Kelly.

She contacted Napier-based artist and Sea Walls regional coordinater Cinzah Merkens to ask about the event and about bringing the festival to her home town.

Cinzah had previously painted at a number of events nationally and internationally, including the 2014 Rhythm and Vines festival as well as PangeaSeed Sea Walls festivals in Mexico, San Diego, Toronto and the Caribbean. He invited Kelly to participate as an artist in last year’s Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans festival in Napier.

“I went to Napier and painted my own mural and at the same time observed how the festival runs from an operational perspective,” says Kelly.

As a self-taught illustrator and signwriter, typography is her speciality. Her Napier mural incorporated the text “Once in a lifetime”.

“It spoke of ocean and plastics and highlighted the issue of single-use plastics which we use for a moment but take a lifetime to breakdown.”

In another text-based painting she used sea imagery with a message in a bottle, and included traditionally positive quote that was reinterpreted to communicate a deeper message.

“At the end of that festival, Cinzah, Pangaseed and I met and decided we would go forwards with Gisborne. We bounced ideas around about artists we thought would be a good fit for the Sea Walls festival, specifically in Tairawhiti.

The team worked to include a broad spectrum of styles, and artists whose values aligned with the PangeaSeed Foundation’s values.

“We had a massive list and kept putting names into it. We wanted as much variation as possible in gender, background and culture.”

They invited Toihoukura Maori visual arts and design school to be involved with the project.

“They were really supportive of the project’s kaupapa,” says Kelly.

The Sea Walls Tairawhiti project began on Friday and now involves 16 international and national artists, and six local artists, who are in the process of completing 16 murals around town.

Kelly’s artistic vocation began as a child but it was only when she was in her 20s that she decided to pursue art as a career. Growing up in Matawhero, the environment and animal welfare were also close to her heart.

“As a kid I was into typography, fashion and architecture,” she says.

“And I always knew I wanted to create a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and the environment.”

Her parents were not the sort to say “art is not a career”, says Kelly.
“Their main concern was that I was able to remain financially stable. They trusted I knew what I was doing. They knew I was determined and creative.”

As a teen she attended Gisborne Girls’ High where her creativity was also encouraged.
(“Do a shout out to our very patient art teacher, Dick Calcott,” she tells the Weekender.)

About 10 years ago she moved to Wellington, an environment she describes as super-creative and nurturing of creativity It is small enough for networks to be made through word of mouth but at the same time has a lot of space.

“I was lucky to make friends with people who were musicians. I started doing gig and theatre posters and random poster work. I got paid — not much, but enough. I had role models all around me. I could see what they were doing and looked at their processes.”

Six or seven years ago she painted her first mural with Sean Duffell in the capital’s Aro Valley.
“Sean is like an older brother. He taught me a lot about how to use aerosol,” she says.
“I came to mural painting from the illustration side rather than through graffitti.”

Kelly describes her typographical style as bold, bright, clean and curvy. Although influenced by traditional signwriting styles, in which artists drew on a huge range of typeface catalogues, she prefers not to let other street art influence her own mural-making style.

Passionate about raising awareness about the plight of the ocean she is rapt to help bring Sea Walls to Tairawhiti. She still calls Gisborne home and was determined to bring a large, creative, modern and environmentally-focused festival here.

“I could see and hear there was a hunger for contemporary creativity,” she says.

As co-ordinator for the Sea Walls Tairawhiti project, Kelly has had little time to get hands-on but has now headed up the coast to work with Cinzah and Sean Duffell on murals in the Uawa-Tolaga Bay township.

With the Pacific as our big, blue backyard, Gisborne was a natural choice for an ocean-themed mural project co-organised by illustrator, muralist and signwriter Kelly Spencer. Based in Wellington, Kelly still calls Gisborne home. This is her story, by Mark Peters . . .

A one-month artist’s residency with Wainui Beach-based screenprinter Tony Ogle inspired Gisborne woman Kelly Spencer to take on a large-scale project.

She had worked on various outdoor projects as a solo artist but this time she wanted to go big and go big she did. Rather than propose a sole-effort mural she contacted Hawaii-based organisation PangeaSeed Foundation to discuss bringing multiple artists from various disciplines to Gisborne to create a series of murals.

“I knew about PangeaSeed’s Sea Walls movement and I’d been to Napier to see the 2016 Sea Walls works there,” says Kelly.

She contacted Napier-based artist and Sea Walls regional coordinater Cinzah Merkens to ask about the event and about bringing the festival to her home town.

Cinzah had previously painted at a number of events nationally and internationally, including the 2014 Rhythm and Vines festival as well as PangeaSeed Sea Walls festivals in Mexico, San Diego, Toronto and the Caribbean. He invited Kelly to participate as an artist in last year’s Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans festival in Napier.

“I went to Napier and painted my own mural and at the same time observed how the festival runs from an operational perspective,” says Kelly.

As a self-taught illustrator and signwriter, typography is her speciality. Her Napier mural incorporated the text “Once in a lifetime”.

“It spoke of ocean and plastics and highlighted the issue of single-use plastics which we use for a moment but take a lifetime to breakdown.”

In another text-based painting she used sea imagery with a message in a bottle, and included traditionally positive quote that was reinterpreted to communicate a deeper message.

“At the end of that festival, Cinzah, Pangaseed and I met and decided we would go forwards with Gisborne. We bounced ideas around about artists we thought would be a good fit for the Sea Walls festival, specifically in Tairawhiti.

The team worked to include a broad spectrum of styles, and artists whose values aligned with the PangeaSeed Foundation’s values.

“We had a massive list and kept putting names into it. We wanted as much variation as possible in gender, background and culture.”

They invited Toihoukura Maori visual arts and design school to be involved with the project.

“They were really supportive of the project’s kaupapa,” says Kelly.

The Sea Walls Tairawhiti project began on Friday and now involves 16 international and national artists, and six local artists, who are in the process of completing 16 murals around town.

Kelly’s artistic vocation began as a child but it was only when she was in her 20s that she decided to pursue art as a career. Growing up in Matawhero, the environment and animal welfare were also close to her heart.

“As a kid I was into typography, fashion and architecture,” she says.

“And I always knew I wanted to create a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves and the environment.”

Her parents were not the sort to say “art is not a career”, says Kelly.
“Their main concern was that I was able to remain financially stable. They trusted I knew what I was doing. They knew I was determined and creative.”

As a teen she attended Gisborne Girls’ High where her creativity was also encouraged.
(“Do a shout out to our very patient art teacher, Dick Calcott,” she tells the Weekender.)

About 10 years ago she moved to Wellington, an environment she describes as super-creative and nurturing of creativity It is small enough for networks to be made through word of mouth but at the same time has a lot of space.

“I was lucky to make friends with people who were musicians. I started doing gig and theatre posters and random poster work. I got paid — not much, but enough. I had role models all around me. I could see what they were doing and looked at their processes.”

Six or seven years ago she painted her first mural with Sean Duffell in the capital’s Aro Valley.
“Sean is like an older brother. He taught me a lot about how to use aerosol,” she says.
“I came to mural painting from the illustration side rather than through graffitti.”

Kelly describes her typographical style as bold, bright, clean and curvy. Although influenced by traditional signwriting styles, in which artists drew on a huge range of typeface catalogues, she prefers not to let other street art influence her own mural-making style.

Passionate about raising awareness about the plight of the ocean she is rapt to help bring Sea Walls to Tairawhiti. She still calls Gisborne home and was determined to bring a large, creative, modern and environmentally-focused festival here.

“I could see and hear there was a hunger for contemporary creativity,” she says.

As co-ordinator for the Sea Walls Tairawhiti project, Kelly has had little time to get hands-on but has now headed up the coast to work with Cinzah and Sean Duffell on murals in the Uawa-Tolaga Bay township.

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