The Kāpiti Coast is a living canvas

A new bird has joined the flock under Waikanae bridge, and Paraparaumu street artist Theo Arraj says it’s the first of many new pieces that will be appearing during 2020.

Pouakai Waikanae river Theo Arraj

by Kate Burney

His aim is to keep his latest Native American influenced work-in-progress bird themed - “but less ‘birdy’…more like a portrait of a person with the spirit of a bird,” he says.

Arraj created the other works on the bridge - including pukekos, a tuatara, and the famous guardian moreporks, which he painted for Destination Waikanae in 2017 to discourage taggers and celebrate the diversity of birdlife in Kāpiti.

Raised in Paraparaumu, Arraj has been making art for as long as he can remember. It was street art that introduced him to using long-standing structures as canvasses - initially for graffiti and later transitioning to more realistic renditions for his mural projects. 

“Graffiti introduced me to painting big and painting outside, combining Paraparaumu’s story with my own.” 

Arraj says his graffiti art wasn’t embraced so much in the beginning: “But when people see you create good work they get really excited about it, and you all end up sharing in the experience.”

Guardians Waikanae River Theo Arraj
Gaia's Gift Otaki Theo Arraj
HU1A Theo Arraj v2
Pukeko Protectors Theo Arraj

He started using a variety of styles and subjects, although often refers back to the natural world - native birds, lizards and insects - along with showcasing parts of his Māori ancestry. 

Arraj said the process has evolved as his own story has, and that his art is all about bringing people along for the ride.

“I noticed graffiti doesn’t always have a positive influence, so I wanted to give people a bit more positivity and add a bit of colour to their lives,” Arraj said. 

He has a number of anecdotes about Waikanae locals giving positive feedback to his works on the rail bridge, including an interested policeman, who ended up helping once he realised the street art was above board. 

These days he is known for large murals and street art in the area, including pieces in Ōtaki, Otaihanga, Coastlands, and Waikanae which are viewed as fresh, renegade, and something a bit different to represent Kapiti’s creative industries and out of the box thinking.

A recent mural welcomes customers to Otakis’s Gorge Café. The work went up earlier this year, with the working artist cheered on by a small crowd of interested locals and art lovers.

The mural is an interactive journey from the mountains to the sea, a colourful representation of unique geographical features in the area, and expands on the café’s ethos of keeping things as local as possible.

Arraj has a creative working relationship with the café, and more murals are currently in the planning stages to go up in the area in the next few months.

His next goal is to share the Kāpiti Coast with the world, starting with a move to the States to pursue his dreams of creating art for a larger audience.

“Kāpiti has so many unique aspects I want to share with the States. It’s influenced my work so much, especially the native birds. It took coming back from a visit to the States to appreciate the Kāpiti Coast. My work is a translation of my life experience and no matter where I am, Kāpiti will be there with me.”

Metamorphic Paraparaumu Theo Arraj
Make Magik Theo Arraj
Gorge Cafe Theo Arraj

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