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Ara Art Graduates Past and Present Contribute To The City’s Street Art Scene

Christchurch – already named in 2017 as a ‘street art capital of the world’ by Lonely Planet - has just gained a spectacular new city mural, courtesy of street art collective ‘DTR Crew’.

The Crew benefits from the talents of two Ara/CPIT graduates - Guy ‘Dcypher’ Ellis and Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson and also includes Nick ‘Ikarus’ Tam & Jacob ‘Yikes’ Ryan. All four worked on the new Riverside central city mural and are prolific contributors both to the city’s public street art and to ‘graf’ culture in the region.

The massive new mural turns the flat wall of the Riverside Market’s rear car park building into a jaw-dropping representation of a 3-dimensional street scene. The huge artwork references Christchurch’s historical journey with a series of painted building ‘facades’ and memorialises key figures and events from the city’s built and cultural heritage, including images that recall the local women’s suffrage movement.

Guy ‘DCypher’ Ellis earned his Bachelor of Art and Design at what was then CPIT, majoring in Illustration and Graphic Design and has since worked freelance, primarily as a mural artist, while living in Los Angeles for the past decade.

Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson is another CPIT graduate has played a major role in transforming the earthquake-ravaged streets of Ōtautahi Christchurch into a wonderland of artistic expression. Wongi too is active in promoting the local growth of ‘street art muralism’, helping aspiring artists to learn their craft and working in collaboration with other muralists and ‘grafs’ across a huge variety of projects in the city.

Both Wongi and Nick ‘Ikarus’ Tam were formerly employed by ‘Project Legit’, a Christchurch community-based scheme backed by the Christchurch City Council that worked with young people engaged in tagging.

Ara’s most recent crop of ‘viz comm’ students have also been contributing recently to Christchurch’s stock of street art scenes, with two new additions completed as 2020 came to a close. The interior refresh of Ara’s Paxus House – currently home to Music Arts and hairdressing and barbering salons – has been complemented by a bold new vinyl wrap along one length of the High Street-facing side of the building. The imagery is a fusion of 24 works by 2020 Year 3 Visual Communications students, helmed by tutor Carl Pavletich, and requisitioned by the Christchurch City Council as part of their project to enliven and beautify Christchurch’s inner city streets with fresh, arresting street art installations.

The Paxus House/High Street mural was conceived during lock-down in 2020, and was originally scheduled to be put in place by July of that. However, circumstances intervened, as they tend to do, and the project was delayed. However, the Council had funding and was determined to proceed with their goal of ‘reactivating’ the inner city – an aim which naturally included enriching the sights around the central streets and creating an artistically-alive atmosphere.

As the planned site formed part of Ara’s city campus, Georgina Hackett, Assistant Planner within the Urban Regeneration Team at the Council, saw the sense of approaching Ara’s Visual Communications school and asking if students could lead the project.

Tutor Carl Pavletich immediately saw the opportunity to showcase his Year Three students’ range of talents, Kristy McDonald and Ryan Navickas, took the creative lead in settling upon an overall idea, and a range of other students contributed to the design, which features a vibrant array of vertical panels; each of which features a different artist, and employs a riot of colour. Carl says “Community projects like these are an amazing opportunity for creative students to engage with our city.”

A little closer to campus home, after the demolition of Ara’s Madras Street C Block building, the Project Management office determined that the newly-blank, street-facing wall needed some visual relief. So naturally the group turned to the Art and Design Department, the leaders of which determined that this would not be a student project, as the surface was large and elevated. Nathan Ingram, Ara’s Head of Fashion School had a solution in mind – to connect with one of his street art contacts – none other than past graduate Guy ‘Dcypher’ Ellis.

The brightly-coloured hand-painted mural features a vast outstretched hand, poised to grasp the ‘key of knowledge’; a theme of universal relevance to students and education providers. The artist also managed to cunning incorporate trompe d’oeil effects that serve to make a feature of the building’s windows, rather than attempting to hide them.

Both artworks can be seen by anyone traversing the length of Christchurch’s High Street and along the block of Madras Street that contains the Ara campus.