Real Life

Graffiti artists' new calling

The young Maori artists are changing the face of street art

From rebellious graffiti bombers to highly respected Kiwi artists, South Auckland husband-and-wife team Janine and Charles Williams have blazed a trail when it comes to art.

Born into a “broken home” in Gisborne and raised by a string of foster mums throughout the country, Charles says he has “art in my DNA” thanks to his father, a gifted Maori artist. “I first became fascinated by graffiti by looking out of the bus window as an 11-year-old. I started copying and tagging, and that was my introduction to art.”

It may have been illegal, but it helped Charles, now 37, find his identity. “It gave me self-esteem. Many graffiti artists don’t find that love, support and nourishment from home, so they try to find it on the street. I found it through graffiti.”

Meanwhile, Janine, 36 – who grew up in Otara – also developed a passion for art in her youth. Fond of fonts and calligraphy, at 18, she became intrigued by this underground culture and began spraying graffiti in public spaces herself. It was then she met Charles and the young lovers were soon at the forefront of a movement that was taking hold around the world.

But in 2001, following the birth of their first child, the pair decided it was time to switch to a more socially acceptable form of graffiti. “We didn’t want to set a bad example by doing something illegal,” explains Charles.

The president of graffiti collective TMD – which stands for The Most Dedicated – he encouraged the group’s members to enter street-art competitions and, in 2006,
the team triumphed at the Write4Gold event in Germany, a contest regarded as the world championships of graffiti.

Since then, the couple – who have four children, Izaiah, 15, Keziah, 13, Azariah, 11, and Michaiah, 10 – have been at the heart of New Zealand’s street- art scene. Their work is a fusion of art, education and Maori history, and they’ve been commissioned by everyone from the Auckland Council to the Ministry of Justice.

The talented couple with their children (from left) Izaiah, Michaiah, Azariah and Keziah.
The talented couple with their children (from left) Izaiah, Michaiah, Azariah and Keziah.

“We want to help creative kids know that it is fine to be different,” says Charles.

They say working together every day has strengthened their marriage and they are delighted that their kids – who help out with their murals – are following in their artistic footprints. Janine concludes, “There are so many talented people on this planet. It is really important for us to show that art can change the world.”

Words: Steve Landells

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