Take a walk on the wild, creative side of Nelson

URBAN JUNGLE: Children can hunt for hidden native birds in Chris Finlayson’s mural at the junction of Selwyn Place and Trafalgar St.
URBAN JUNGLE: Children can hunt for hidden native birds in Chris Finlayson’s mural at the junction of Selwyn Place and Trafalgar St.

Following a successful sculpture jaunt, our family went on a public art hunt last week. There are lots of murals and mosaics in Nelson. Some we loved and some we were ambivalent about. We argued about unsanctioned street art, but agreed that Nelson is a better place for both its authorised and unauthorised works.

Close to home is A Better World painted by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology international English language students and 12-year-olds from St Joseph's School. The mural, on a corrugated fence, brightens up a stretch of Willow Walk. My children liked the idea of their colleagues contributing to Nelson's art scene.

Many schools are adorned with art, so visit yours. Or take my hot pick and head to the colourful buildings at Victory Primary School. While in the area, visit the vibrant Matariki motif on a wall backing on to the railway reserve. It has native animals and plants and the Seven Sisters of Matariki.

The Victory Square toilets and cricket pavilion have art and even the utility boxes at Victory provide canvases. The dairy wall has a work by Chris Finlayson called Ko Na tangata (It's About People), which features liquorice allsorts (a social pun), flax and planets.

Finlayson has a well-deserved public art profile. My favourite is Nature outgrows the urban jungle located at the junction of Selwyn Place and Trafalgar St. This native bush scene covers an entire multi-storey wall and creates a lush urban oasis. Our children enjoyed finding four native birds hidden in the mural.

Finlayson also painted Aotearoa, one of the most photographed environmental artworks in New Zealand, on Wakefield Quay. Other pieces by Finlayson include the Peace Mural at Tahunanui and The Knowledge mural at Nelson Public Library.

Also busy is Janet Bathgate. Her Weka St four-sided mural is a witty work with a lot to take in. A cyclist wears a snorkel, a reference to the location once being beyond the sea shore and a stoat and a kiwi race to the Centre of New Zealand.

Nearby, Bathgate adds her quirky touch to a toilet block in Neal Park. Called Air, it depicts skateboarding, kite-flying and football. Bathgate has also jazzed up public toilets at Branford Park in the Maitai Valley with Skids which has funky outside panels that refer to toilet humour, logging, mountainbiking and boy racers. This building is multipurpose; after you have done your business you can use it as a climbing wall like Mr 9-year old.

Bland alleys are a popular canvas. Leading off Buxton Square is a brightly coloured Nelson scene painted by Marilyn Andrews featuring native and non-native plants, the Takaka Hill, Boulder Bank and lighthouse.

The alley into Montgomery Square, beside the Work and Income building, has a mural by Rick Edmonds. In this friendly scene, Edmonds has painted his family, friends and his self-portrait.

With public art you need to look down as well as up. The Alma Lane pavement mosaics, by Tejas Arn, depict local produce, including shellfish, apples and grapes, and even fish within fish. Miss 11-year old worried that maintenance of the tiles was overdue.

The mosaic I worry about is Eat your heart out by Valeska Campion. It is on the front entrance of The Hub community building on New St, which has recently been deemed as not meeting earthquake standards. Please save it.

Public art is continually changing. Some disappears, like the coffee roasters on the old Pomeroys building, while Modigliani's Trout on the Youth Hostel Association building at the eastern entry to Montgomery Square is about to get a makeover. Here, Sirpa Alalaakkola imitates the style of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, known for his use of mask-like faces and elongation of form.

Go into Montgomery Square and look at Wakatu House. A three-storey poupou adorns the foyer, the concrete panels have lovely kowhaiwhai patterns and one window has an impressive sketch by Robin Sloe.

Nelson's temporary works are also cool. Fresh Choice donates the use of a wall to urban artists and the State Cinema currently has a series of Andy Warhol-inspired images.

We came across guerrilla street art in our travels, such as Luke Skywalker playing tennis with the Death Star on the rear wall of Rebel Sport. My husband was keen on more of this subversive art, but I suspect that his views are not universally shared.

Slightly less controversial is Art in Windows, which runs from October 15 to 28 and is an opportunity for retailers, businesses and galleries to showcase their creative talent.

The Nelson City Council has free guided walks from October 16 to 18 with Debbie Danniell-Smith. Take this opportunity to discover murals, art, sculpture and architecture. No bookings are required and the walks are free.

Art adds life to a city and must be celebrated. If it makes you think, it is good. It is great that we have a council, creative groups and private individuals who don't fear offending people (well not too much).

My request is to be less apologetic about the placement of art - get it out of alleys and into our faces please. Make our city a giant gallery accessible to everyone.

How about new art on the Selwyn St side of Fashion Island, the new building going up in Buxton Square and the concrete retaining wall in Broad Field playground?

And, finally, how about a public art cycle trail - all 28 samples of public art that we found were located within a 5km radius of the Nelson city centre?