Mural dreams for art student

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It’s late afternoon and sharp autumn light is beaming down on Sheldon Morehu and the striking teal, silver and black mural of the maunga at Waitara’s skate park where he’s spray-painting finishing touches.

From crayons and colouring pencils as a toddler to mural artist as a teen, Sheldon (Te Atiawa, Tuhoe) is now enrolled in WITT’s Level 4 New Zealand Art and Design Certificate doing what he loves most.

Train stations were the canvas for his first foray into mural and graffiti art in Wellington while at high school, with an abundance of walls and spaces for aspiring street artists and taggers. Art was his favourite activity even before he started primary school, thanks to his mum – a photographer.

“I’ve been surrounded all my life by images. I’ve been around colour and I've known how to match colours since primary school,” Sheldon says.

Fast forward to 2024 – after a range of work experiences, from catering to construction sites, and post-quake rebuilding in Christchurch, Sheldon made the choice to pursue his lifelong love of art.

Prior to that he’d been driving a local council rubbish truck in New Plymouth doing 12-to-14-hour days. It was stressful and tiring work. After hours, art was his sanctuary. “I’d go home, and just draw. It’s always been my expression and release - and that’s why I need to do it as a career. I love art, everything about it. There’s not one style that I’m stuck on.”

Art and life

Sheldon says at WITT he’s learned how to keep track of his ideas for future projects. By writing down his thoughts and sketching designs, he doesn’t lose sleep trying to recall the many visual impressions and observations he’s seen during the day.

“When I was doing the rubbish truck job, I’d see designs everywhere, building angles and shadows.”

Sheldon qualified as a chef after leaving school, then worked in Christchurch digging drains following the second big earthquake in 2011. Amid the city ruins, he was often captivated by graffiti and mural art on remaining walls of damaged buildings. He moved to Australia with his whanau and saved money doing construction site work in Brisbane to fund his art course.

Why is mural art important?

Living in Waitara now with his partner, Trinity, who is from Waitara and is studying midwifery, and their six tamariki, he hopes to get commissions doing murals locally.

Sheldon – whose artist name is Rytem - believes murals are vital for any community. “A mural can brighten up the place. It can tell a story too. For people who aren’t from the town, they see the artwork, they can look at it and a get feel for the place. Kids will see it and want to figure out how you do that. If not, it’ll become a lost art.”

His children, aged five months to 11 years, are, not surprisingly, keen artists. This is heartening for Sheldon who is concerned young people will lose a natural interest in drawing and art because of the constant distraction of digital technology. Apart from his eldest, none of his children have digital devices. They are happy with pencils, paints, canvas. “I tell them to ‘draw, draw, draw!’” he laughs.

Ged Guy, art tutor and senior academic staff member in the Creative Industries team, says “All the tutors teaching Sheldon are super impressed by his course engagement. He’s a top student and an inspiration to others – we absolutely love having him study with us! He has a bright future ahead.”

Sheldon says he “loves learning new things everyday” at WITT where the “awesome tutors” are opening doors to a deeper knowledge of techniques and theories, which he knows will come in handy when he sets out to make his mark in the art world - and in our city streets.

Caption: Art and Design student Sheldon Morehu

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