Rail Murals To Turn Grey?


Recent strange inner-city goings-on suggest some council officials want to paint the town grey in time for the RWC 2011 which has triggered rumours the colourful murals adjacent to the Morningside train station are also under threat from being painted over.
There is a difference between walls being tagged and train windows being scratched and street art and the sort of train art that graced some New York train carriages and subways decades ago - so let’s not get distracted by that debate here. You know how I feel about nice new train station furniture being defaced.That’s not what is being discussed here.

The Morningside murals by artist Askew are wonderful and grace the interesting little semi-bohemian suburb but partly sterile light industrial area and neighbouring leaky building apartments between Kingsland and St Lukes.

The rumours arise after officials ordered Askew’s colourful long-established work along K Rd painted over as he reports on his blog. It has sparked a petition.

Hopefully Morningside commuters will report in if they see the same workmen painting over the murals there so that the many rugby visitors who go through Morningside for Eden Park’s RWC2011 games are not shocked to see them. They assume rugby fans are bland boring and repulsed by colourful art!

Askew, in his blog post, is scathing about the recent official murals around railway stations.

“Council funded murals deemed as ‘acceptable’ by Rob Shields (the council graffiti prevention officer ) are generally awful in my opinion. Take a look at the atrocious mural work near the New Market station and the putrid historic city-scape at the Boston road station for example. Neither of these paintings could be deemed as current, compelling or particularly well executed for that matter. One of my only dealings with Rob Shields on a mural project he had us paint people mowing lawns. I am not kidding.”

As we know from the current debate on the site about the Pohutukawa sculpture at Spaghetti Junction, art is a very subjective thing. As the clique goes, art is in the eye of the beholder.

Personally, I love the New Lynn new station art and rail trench wall murals which were done by local area artists and with significance to the clay that marked the area with its famous Crown Lynn Pottery. Artist Louise Purvis was commissioned to lead a team to treat the trench walls with art featuring topographic lines to reflect New Lynn’s origin. In all, there were 258 fibreglass-reinforced concrete panels.

The council also commissioned artists to further reflect New Lynn’s clay and ceramic history with patterns for four cross bridges that cross the trench, sculptural furniture for the station platform and concourse and historic markers (impressions firms impressed onto bricks, pipes and tiles) cast into manhole covers around the surrounding footpath as reminders of New Lynn’s early business history.

It was a loving project by the then Waitakere City whose then Mayor Bob Harvey was an active patron of the arts and understood what was needed there.

I also like the nod to history at both Onehunga and Grafton stations - especially the sea of white and green light that hits you when you look out the window and find yourself underground at the Grafton station.

Murals on Grafton station platform level

Fencing around Onehunga's station depicting village history

But the Newmarket murals have left me cold  and feel like a tablecloth my Grandma would have - but that’s a personal thing.

I wish all stations had some special visual identity and some reflection of the community around it.
Like Morningside as bro’town where sadly Ant Sang’s work needs urgent TLC:

And Askew’s Morningside work must survive.
I saw them rush to remove murals from both Boston Rd/Grafton and Kingsland when they upgraded there.

Removing train art from near Boston Rd

Let’s hire Askew to give some other suburban train stations some personality, not bring in workmen to paint the town bland.




  1. joust says:

    Those murals are great. We certainly need a more arts focus around lots of parts of Auckland. New Lynn is so fortunate to have had a strong design focus at their new station.

    I can’t stand vandalism or tagging, these murals are something completely different.

  2. component says:

    yeah nice great write up good to see the right support on this .!

  3. richard says:

    There are murals and there is bombing.
    Above we have examples of both, the painter is removing bombing which has no artistic merit and is vandalism. Tagging is the illegible scrawl usually seen sprayed on walls, posts etc.

  4. Leon says:

    I miss the previous Morningside murals.
    The Samurai Jack ones were far cooler than the current crop.
    Sadder than that was the censorship of the art at the Mt Eden station… there used to be 2 suggestive images, one of which mentioned “Mackin’ hos”. They were my favourite part of the wall but met with the grey death.

  5. Kurt says:

    The council would pull their collective hair out reading this. Rightly thinking people are over the abysmal state of Auckland’s rail corridors they set about trying to eliminate the problem but then find there is some flicker of acceptance for some forms of vandalism, I mean “Art”.

    This is why we have tagging/graffiti/vandalism.

    Good people try to define then tolerate what is tagging and what isn’t. They try and accommodate and try to be fair and understanding although they don’t really understand at all.

    Then when some loser vandalises property be it a rail corridor, station or train he will claim he was being artistic, art is so subjective isn’t it? And lets be fair some of the “art” work on the sides of trains has been comparable to whats being held up as “art” at Morningside.

    The council have to take a all or nothing approach or we end up with the status quo, a filthy mess.

  6. Owen Thompson says:

    Good on you Kurt, I agree. It is all mindless vandalism. How is the Council meant to enforce a ban on certain graffiti, while allowing another?

    I caught the train yesterday from Manurewa & would have preferred to look at grey walls than the rubbish I saw. All it is, is proof that morons have been on the rail corridor.

  7. Mark says:

    we had a wonderful commissioned mural on the Kingsland station - but when they rebuilt it, Council Art people wouldn’t let it be replaced - thought it spoiled the clean look for RWC.

    In fact they wouldn’t even let Community Brd pay for one on a building backing on to the corridor from New North rd……………

  8. Nick R says:

    In Melbourne they have street art walking tours that are very popular. Doesn’t the council realise you can see grey walls anywhere in the world… but you can’t see our pacific flavoured street art anywhere else!

  9. mark says:

    Owen, the difference is a) whether it’s been permitted (and also, whether it’s on private land) and b) whether the community decides that an un-permitted mural / grafitti is worth saving.

    In case a) there is no decision to be made at all - it’s permitted, and the anti-grafitti people need to keep their hands off, and concentrate on the real tagging. That can’t be THAT hard.

    In case of b), Local communities should nominate (maybe through the local boards) which, if any, illegal grafitti they find worth protecting. Again, that can’t be THAT hard to codify into a semi-formal process.

    It’s just telling some wall painters where to paint out stuff and where NOT to paint out stuff. Getting agreement on that can be contentious, but it’s not rocket science.

  10. James B says:

    I personally find grey walls to be mindless. The developers who put them up should be arrested as well for crimes against architecture. What’s wrong with having a mural painted or putting a creeper up the side? If you must build a solid concrete wall at least try and hide it please.

  11. [...] AKTWater and the Three Kings quarry. No new Govt investment in Auckland transport for 10 years. Fate of Morningside murals. Auckland TransportGovt wants Spatial Plan to be a 1960s document. More on the govt’s Spatial [...]

  12. Urban Local says:

    The land owners that allow their properties to fall to disrepair should also be painted with the same accusation brush, they are vandalising our urban aesthetic! More than any person with a can can,
    Hat tip to Leon, I especially liked the Mt Eden Stn. ‘Cool face weasel’ (I imagine that is what he would have been called). Got any pictures of these?

  13. kay says:

    With regard to the Mt Eden Station wall: as one of the artists responsible for the “cool face weasel” pieces as described above (the characters were actually from an old Vaughn Bode cartoon, but I digress), we were really saddened to see that particular wall painted grey for a number of reasons. That Mt Eden wall has been being painted for the better part of the last 2 decades, and as such carries the marks of hundreds of writers, young and old, some of whom are now dead or MIA, or have simply grown up and got on with their lives. To see something that so many local people had contributed to over such a long period of time buffed sterile grey overnight is really disheartening. Even if might have only been a small tag high on the wall from the mid 90s for example, to those who know (and there are more than you think!) that represents a person or collective that contributed to the graffiti culture in our city. Not to mention that the Mt Eden wall has been painted WITH PERMISSION from the owners for the last 10 years or so. There are people in our city who do not live in Remuera and, heaven forbid, might even be under the age of 40, even if they aren’t always as vocal as those who don’t understand. Enough with the buff.

  14. Sam Finnemore says:

    The pre-RWCified Kingsland station used to have some fantastic artwork painted onto the brick and scoria walls behind the old station building. I understand that the old station had to be redeveloped, but I would love to see Askew or another top-notch artist get the run of the new grey walls behind the shelters - work to a local theme, then maybe set the work behind glass for protection? Suspect council policy and RWC branding guidelines might sink that, though.

    Have said this a few times here before, but *quality* street art (as opposed to spidery tagging) and Auckland rail travel go together naturally in my mind.

  15. Owen Thompson says:

    Kay, “graffiti culture” is an oxymoron like “military intelligence”. It’s vandalism done by vandals. If it is so amazing, why don’t they paint it on their own property? Because they own nothing, is the answer.

  16. Mark says:

    Sam - last community Board commissioned an art work for back of Sauvarins building - it was backed by owner, Kingsland bus. assoc.

    It was by the same artist who had done the one on Sandringham Rd - on the station wall.

    It brought together, rugby imagery, historic buildings/cafe culture - and would have been great.

    But the art nazi’s in Auck city Council wouldn’t allow it! said it ruined look of clean (grey) new station……

    everyone was annoyed!

  17. Sam Finnemore says:

    “Kay, “graffiti culture” is an oxymoron like “military intelligence”. It’s vandalism done by vandals. If it is so amazing, why don’t they paint it on their own property? Because they own nothing, is the answer.”

    You do realise there is a difference between vandalising taggers and graffiti artists who actually seek consent from property owners? The latter is the sort of “graffiti culture” that Jon and most commenters are talking about here.

  18. kay says:

    Owen - Culture is not defined by its legality, and neither is art (as Mr Shields would have you believe). There is culture amongst groups of criminals, ie. the gangs in NZ - the fact that they might engage in illegal activity or that you personally find them repugnant does not change that. The NZ Herald described the actions of certain policemen a few years ago as belonging to a “Sick Police Culture”, although you would hardly find 3 senior policemen raping a young woman in an art gallery.
    You’re absolutely right, they own nothing - how many teens / early 20-somethings do you know that can afford to own property? And why should we be forced to look at a McDonalds billboard simply because they can afford to thrust it in our faces? In many cases the kids doing the graffiti on the rail corridor are from broken homes or bad backgrounds, and it gives them an outlet for their frustration other than stealing cars in the middle of the night of smashing bus stop windows. A bit of paint on a wall is pretty transient in the greater scheme of things.

  19. Mark says:

    Kay - if it’s your private wall you might feel the same.

    Respect for people and their property is crucial in any society. I’m sure taggers would be the first to complain if I took/damaged anything of theirs!

    We can’t patronise peopel by saying they come from a disadvantaged background, therefore they can’t meet normal standards……

    And I see a very clear distinction from an organised/permitted artwork on a grey station wall, and someone tagging my gargare door…

  20. Andy says:

    Yay let’s be boring and look at grey the whole way to work. Actually, I think I will make my computer background grey and hang a picture of the colour grey on my grey wall!

  21. kay says:

    “And I see a very clear distinction from an organised/permitted artwork on a grey station wall, and someone tagging my gargare door…”

    Mark - I agree. And I think there is a clear distinction again between those things and a decent piece of graffiti painted illegally on an uncared-for trackside wall. The issue is not black and white, there are plenty of grey areas (pun intended), but the council are taking an old fashioned, hard nosed approach that has been proven ineffective in other parts of the world plenty of times.


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