Kāpiti Coast as a living canvas
Street artist Theo Arraj continues to wow by using long-standing structures across Kāpiti as canvasses for his art. His ongoing work transforms the bland into the extraordinary.
by Kate Burney
If you have travelled over the Waikanae River bridge on old State Highway 1 you may have noticed the Native American influenced birds adorning the adjacent rail bridge supports.
Arraj created the works on the bridge - including pukekos, a tuatara, and the famous guardian moreporks, 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.”
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 Kāpiti’s creative industries and out of the box thinking.
A large-scale mural welcomes customers to Ōtaki’s Gorge Café on Riverbank Road. The work went up earlier in 2019, 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.
“Kāpiti has so many unique aspects. It’s influenced my work so much, especially the native birds. My work is a translation of my life experience and no matter where I am, Kāpiti will be there with me.”