Since Chorus established its art programme, artists throughout the country have been painting its telecommunications cabinets in a bid to prevent vandalism, writes Holly Cushen

You may have seen Paul Walsh’s art work adorning telecoms utility cabinets on our bustling city streets and in quiet cul-de-sacs. Walsh grew up in Rotorua and first realised his artistic ambitions aged just 15. Now based in Auckland, he has his own website and is frequently commissioned to create commercial works. He makes a living doing what he loves.

We asked him some quick questions to get a better picture of the man behind the quirky cabinet artworks.

Grumpy Cat mural, located in the dog park at Three Kings, Auckland

Noo Zillun, corner Fort Street and Jean Batten Place, Auckland

The Modern Working Dog, outside ASB Showgrounds, Auckland

Piggy Stardust, corner of View and Wynyard Roads, Mt Eden, Auckland

When did you realise you had artistic talent and have you always aspired to be an artist?

Like most artists, I always loved painting and drawing. My school-books were always full of comic strips and doodles, but I didn’t seriously consider making a career out of art until I was 15. I remember when my mum’s friend saw one of the paintings I had done for School Certificate Art and offered to buy it. This inspired me to hang some pieces in the Fat Dog Cafe in Rotorua. They all sold, and after that I was hooked. 

 

How did you get involved with Chorus and its cabinet art programme?

After I moved to Auckland, in 2007, I met a few guys who were really into graffiti. I used to go out with them and they would paint their graffiti pieces, and I would paint weird characters next to them. I eventually started painting the characters by themselves. 

One night I really wanted to paint something, but I’d had a few beers and didn’t want to drive. So, I walked to our local dog park in Three Kings and, under the light of the moon, painted a big ‘Grumpy Cat’ [the internet celebrity cat] on the water tower. People loved it. This grumpy feline looking down its nose at the dogs playing in the park. However, after four or five months, someone else painted a big tag across the top, and then the whole wall was painted over.

This led to a newspaper article and then a petition to “Bring back the Grumpy Cat”. The article caught the attention of Jo Seddon at Chorus, who got in touch, via the newspaper, and suggested I paint some of the local Chorus cabinets. Forty artworks later and I’m still doing them.

 

Tell me about some of the experiences you’ve had painting the cabinets?

Almost every cabinet leads to some public interaction – particularly once the artworks start taking shape. It’s almost always positive. People love seeing colour appear in their neighbourhood. 

There are a couple of experiences that stand out, like the time I was painting a cabinet on Auckland’s Karangahape Road and spent the day surrounded by various ‘ladies of the night’ offering artistic feedback. Then there was the time I forgot to wear my high-vis vest and had the police called on me.  

 

Tricky question: what is your favourite cabinet painting?

It would probably be Piggy Stardust – it’s next to the kindergarten both my children went to, and the guinea pig featured in the artwork lives at the kindergarten. Then, less than a year after I painted it, David Bowie, who was the original inspiration for the artwork, passed away, so that artwork really resonates with me. 

 

So, what’s next for you?

I’m still painting cabinets – they have helped open up a world of other artistic possibilities. I am now painting commercial murals and public artworks full-time, supporting my family through the work. And, as long as I can keep doing that, well, I think the phrase that best sums it up is the old cliché: I’m living the dream.