We sat down with amazing mural maker Tess Sheerin, currently touring New Zealand painting educational murals about water pollution. Her project is called “New Zealand’s Worth Loving” and we agree! Here we talk rainbow trouts, dolphins and why she’s sending a message in a bottle to parliament.

Kia Ora Tess, thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell me what inspired you to make these murals?

I have always loved animals and spending time in nature, both of which are an inspiration for this tour. I painted a much smaller interior pollution awareness artwork in 2014 but felt that it was connecting with only a minority of people in the art world. I decided…I needed to paint huge murals in public spaces to create enough controversy.

What kind of message are you trying to tell Aotearoa New Zealand with your murals?

The tour aims to communicate the serious issue of water pollution and its damaging effect on wildlife. I decided to name the tour ‘New Zealand’s Worth Loving’ because it really is. The sad reality of the impact of rubbish pollution, in particular single-use plastics, on our wildlife, is devastating. Each of the wildlife interpretations in my murals have a drainage fixture for a stomach; I would like people to think about what they are putting down the drains as well as the rubbish on our beaches.

They must be a lot of work – do you have fun making them?

Yes and no (laughs), I put all the energy I can muster into each of these murals and by day five my arms are so sore. Then I’ll get a second lot of energy and just charge through it. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to create something massive – and with an important message – it is super rewarding.

How long can they take?

This depends on the size of the wall, for example the first mural of the tour ‘Drainbow Trout’ took seven days to complete where-as Christchurch’s ‘Unsealed’ mural took 12 days with a day to rest my arms in the middle because it was huge!

What message did you write on your ‘message in a bottle’ and why?

I want the bottle deposit scheme to help clean up our beaches. Single-use plastics are one of the biggest environmental issues threatening the earth’s future. We must take important steps to ensure that we have one. The system has been successful in various countries – it’s proof that we can make a change to help combat this issue.

What do you love most about beaches and oceans?

I love nature in general; mountains, lakes and oceans are all right up there on my list. Just the feeling of walking down the beach barefoot I find incredibly grounding. I also love being in the water. I moved to Raglan after painting the Auckland mural for a break, I’ve traded my snowboard for a surfboard and I’m absolutely loving the vibe.

Why do you feel it’s important to protect our oceans and beaches from litter?

We are killing our future by ignoring the increasing problem of pollution. We must look after the people and places we love. After all, we are all animals just like the wildlife whose habitat is the ocean and or beach. I try and put myself in their shoes – imagine if our food source was contaminated with plastic particles that we couldn’t see; it’s simply a horrible situation that we must work together to help make change. When we eat seafood nasty toxins can enter our bodies and cause major health problems.

Are murals your usual thing or is there another form of art you usually create?

At the moment murals are taking over my life, but yes I create all sorts of things and my favourite is to simply draw with charcoal pencil and paper. I am always foraging in tips and recycle centres too, the series I worked on before this was a series of sculptures made from old and broken surfboards.

Why is art so important for social and environmental change movements?

Without art in all its array of forms there would be no culture. Art is open to interpretation and stimulates thought on many issues and I believe art can promote change. Visual arts are extremely powerful when the subject matter is a problem that’s created by mankind and a problem that is often ignored.

You live near the coast; do you see much litter on your closest beach or in your community? How does this make you feel?

I am living in Raglan in between murals and the community [here] is actually really conscious about environmental issues and organise regular beach clean ups. I often take dogs out to the beach for a walk and pick up litter, it’s usually much worse after a storm and it makes me feel sad and angry to see how much is there.

What’s the next plan with your mural tour – have you got any more murals lined up?

Yes the final mural of the tour is in Wellington, the date set to start is the 7th of September. The mural will be based on a bottlenose dolphin which are often spotted on beaches around Wellington. We are also organizing a harbour clean up and I shall put the event details up on worthloving.org if anyone out there is interested in joining us.    

You can check out Tess’s art on her website tesssheerin.com and you can find her incredible murals at a location near you!

Clampfish – Auckland – Location: 148 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna, Auckland 0622 Unsealed – Christchurch – Location: 307 Durham Street North, Christchurch 8013

Poorly Penguin – Dunedin – Location: 560 Andersons Bay Rd, South Dunedin, Dunedin 9012 Drainbow Trout – Queenstown – Location: 11 Earl St, Queenstown 9300