In 2017 Jesse Jensen founded Ares Artifex with the goal of proliferating public art in Auckland & New Zealand. He works in roller, spray, acrylic and mixed media on canvas and primarily on large walls. His style consists of vibrantly coloured lanscapes and people in a painterly aesthetic. Ares Artifex is currently working on large murals in Otahuhu and and Northcote supported by Auckland Council and Manukau Beautification Trust and is exhibiting works at Otautahi Tattoo Gallery on Karangahape road in collaboration with the creative agency Good Exposure.
As a public artist since 2003 I have painted 1000’s of walls in New Zealand and Australia and a few in Fiji. I’m from Auckland and I support the proliferation of more street art here.
Over the past 2 years I have secured permission to paint approximately 50 walls in Auckland. One of these was an alleyway in Glenfield. After spending 30 hours working on the mural, it was painted over by Auckland Council. There was some confusion between different council departments about whether my permission was granted or not. But regardless, the Auckland Council destroyed a piece of my art work. It was not about keeping the place clean from unsightly tagging, this was something different.
I love learning and using my creative mind. Probably the best thing I can do to serve my community right now is to educate the powers that be of the value of public expression, and to do something that enables more local public art created by and for our people.
Public art can be a powerful tool to engage our people and to create spaces they can identify with. It makes Auckland more beautiful; instilling local identity, public ownership, and community pride. More public art will create landmarks and distinct features in the urban landscape, and support cultural tourism.
The public artist adds life and vibrancy to a neighbourhood, but the Council policy of 100% erradication of uncommissioned street art is sterilizing our visual landscape. This policy prioritises control over local character.
Just ask permission
Being a graffiti artist is a pretty thankless task. However, painting illegally and without compensation as a message of resistance and liberation is a high form of artistic integrity.
Auckland council spends about $4 million each year removing uncommissioned graffiti and street art. The council erradication goal is to remove anything painted illegally within 24 hours. And they do a pretty good job of it. As a public artist there is almost nowhere to work legally, so you have only two options as an emerging public artist: Don’t paint much and have a little public art up, or be a criminal and have everything destroyed the next day.
This is a Problem
To generalize; creating cultural art work in public spaces in Auckland is either illegal or controlled by corporations, council and land owners. To paint on council controlled assets you must meet strict requirements, pay steep fees, and have your design vetted by often conservative community organizations with unelected officials. And that’s if you are lucky enough to get permission and funding. Getting permission is an incredibly time-consuming process, especially for a young, unexperienced artist trying to break into the art world.
Most legitimate activities cost money, and it is a lack of money that accounts for many young people’s entanglements with the criminal law. Informed by the broken window theory*, many local governments seek to prevent and remove uncommisioned public art in order to discourage criminal activity. On the flip side, public art in the form of murals is frequently requested by policy makers to beautify locations and attract tourists. So when it suits them, the Council choose who paints where. Basically, if you want to be a paid public artist in Auckland, you’d better get good at painting native birds.
The joy of sharing the beauty of visual expression in public places seems to be for me, for now, my life’s work.
*The Broken Window theory claims that visible signs of crime and civil disorder create an environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.