Raglan artist builds street cred in the Waikato

Denise Fort is helping to beautify urban Waikato, one wall at a time.

The Raglan artist has just taken part in Hamilton’s first street art festival, Boon, which was held to transform grey walls into stunning artwork.

Last year, her artwork helped beautify Huntly as part of Project Harmony, a community initiative designed to build a positive environment in and around the town. (None of her work has been tagged so far, she says.)

And this week she has begun work on a mural in Te Kuiti as part of Empty Spaces (initiated by former Raglan resident Brigid Allan), another project with the aim of beautifying the town centre and generating more pride in the street

Denise was one of 11 artists selected for Boon, which got funding from the Creative Communities Scheme, Wel Energy and Resene, among others.

Nine large murals were painted on empty walls in the city centre over three days, from October 30 to November 1.

In Hamilton, her “very rough” wall in Collingwood St is now resplendent in her distinctive linear, cartoonish, architectural style, “drawn from the library in my head”.

“A few plants and some rocks, and a little house with a magnifying glass, and a helicopter flying towards the magnifying glass, very curious … there are three kinds of trees, could be inspired by the, what do you call them? Pohutukawa?”

Denise, who has lived in Raglan for nearly seven years and has opened a small shop at back of Frocking Gorgeous, was born in Germany but her family is from the Czech Republic. She never felt at home in either country.

An industrial designer and illustrator by trade, her travels took her to Raglan and she stayed “because the people were very kind to me and allowed me to draw things”.

Working then as a freelance graphic designer, it was the first time she had ever considered that she could call herself an artist.

“Being an artist is something very scary in Germany, but it is not so much here.”

Her signature style is drawing straight onto any surface with a black line. “I just go for it.” She draws buildings, helicopters, robots and plants, inspired by architecture and nature.

The helicopters first appeared in her travels around Australia and New Zealand, she says, and represent the freedom that she loves: “They fly around and can go anywhere they like … come into the country and intrude in the country but not in a bad way.

“I like the robot effect because it is like a product but with a personality.”

Boon coordinator Paul Bradley says Denise was chosen as one of the artists for the project because she has a “really distinct style” that “works really well in an urban environment”.

Denise, who is no stranger to drawing large-scale, says the mural in Hamilton is the biggest artwork she has done, and she had to use rollers to paint on her black lines.

The texture of the wall was too rough to allow for intricate, detailed work, she says, and she only had three days to complete the project.

“I got spontaneous helpers. They came from the streets,” she says.

“The second day they were kind of hanging out and said ‘if you need any help just let us know’.”

So Denise got them to fill in her lines, colouring-in on a grand scale.

“They couldn’t believe we weren’t using spray cans,” she laughs, and says she suspects that their artwork is likely to be found under some of the city’s bridges.

“One of the them was a very young guy and he was very grateful to work on my mural.”

She’s taken him to Te Kuiti to help work on her Empty Spaces wall.

She says getting young people involved in public art projects is a good way of getting them off the streets and taking pride in their environment.

“It’s something the councils could look at doing more.”                                    

Inger Vos

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