The artist behind the mural at Christchurch's new H&M store

by India Hendrikse / 07 September, 2017
Photography / Guy Frederick

A Christchurch native, Hart has infused his urban pop art style into the city.

Paint it red

Artist Joel Hart has created a mural for a giant H&M hanger outside the new Christchurch store which opens Saturday, 9 September.  He’s also part of a movement creating murals on the city’s walls.

Spray cans and sheets of copper create a minefield across the studio floor. Pop art-inspired female faces are stacked against walls, coated in words, graffiti and acrylic paints with layering reminiscent of the art movement Robert Rauschenberg ignited back in the 1950s. For artist Joel Hart, I imagine his studio on an upper floor at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School is a sort of organised chaos. Nevertheless, he says we caught him “just as he was due for a clean up”. I smile at the empty promise. Hart’s no minimalist.

The artist has spent the past six months at the high school on an artist residency aimed at inspiring and teaching the students, who can visit his studio whenever they please. Most recently, he’s been immersed in the design of a massive mural that's been painted at the base of a giant hanger in front of H&M’s new Christchurch store. The fashion giant recognised him as one of the city’s most prominent young artists, known for the large-scale graffiti he’s dressed post-quake buildings in across the city.

Joel Hart in his studio at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School.

Hart believes the earthquake helped fuel a movement of graffiti art cropping up across the city. “With street artists it was sort of a blessing in disguise,” he says. “All of these buildings fell down and then there were these semi-permanent spaces, these walls that you could paint. There were all these street artists who were struggling away and then had a platform to show their stuff.” Hart’s current street art includes a black and white man and bear on a wall in Madras Street, a bright blue mural of a woman cracking open a skull in New Brighton, and a woman with her forehead emblazoned with the word ‘saucy’ in Southwark Street.

While Hart’s usual style has a 1950s pin-up feel to it, the work he was commissioned to create for H&M takes a different route. It’s directly inspired by Christchurch and the symbolism the city’s known for. “It’s like an old Christchurch cathedral window, then there’s hills and nature and a garden city, with flowers and plants,” he says. The final result is a mash-up of stencil art, photography and H&M red. His process is complicated and time consuming. “I use mostly spray paint and ink,” he says. “I start digitally, so I make a composition, print out sensors and bits and pieces, cut out shapes then layer it and make a new composition. At the moment I’m using layers of perspex and metals and stuff, so that’s my new thing. It’s more of a sculptural direction than I’ve taken in the past, which is cool because it’s challenging.”

In his spare time, Hart’s inspiration is simpler than his intricate paintings would indicate. “I like to try to go and surf or mountain bike,” he says. “Hanging out with [his daughter] Willow is quite cool, too.” While his love for painting began when he drew friends’ dogs for them when he was younger, stepping into full-time artist territory was never the predicted road. “I studied graphic design and was always doing art on the side,” he says. “The street art scene developed my style really, and after working for a screen printer for a while I taught myself street art in the garage and sort of merged the two styles. I just kept experimenting and then eventually it took over.”

YAY FOR OPENING DAY

See Hart’s mural and join H&M to celebrate the opening of the new Christchurch store on September 9th.

  • Activity to start from 7am
  • Clint Roberts will DJ from 8am
  • There are goodie bags for the first 100 in line
  • Entertainment and prizes to be won

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