The graffiti artist responsible thought reaction would be mixed. What he didn’t expect was silence.
For five months, the capital’s famous Wellington sign has been covered in a patchwork of rainbow graffiti and no one has done anything about it. Few locals have even realised the sign’s new paint job is illegal.
Until now, neither Wellington City Council nor Wellington Airport have made any statements about the graffiti, and there have been no media reports on the sign’s facelift.
On a Tuesday night in May this year, an artist – whom The Spinoff has agreed not to name – climbed the three-metre-high structure and painted all 10 letters in a patchwork of rainbow-coloured graffiti.
Having completed his artwork, he didn’t expect it to last long – a day or two at most.
“I don’t even know who owns it, but I thought they would paint over it straight away. I went back the next day as fast as I could cause I thought they’d be up there repainting it. Now we’re five, six months later and we’re chilling.”
The sign, also known as “Wellington blown away”, measures roughly 28 metres across with letters that are around 3.5 metres high. The structure, designed by Matt Sellars and Raymond McKay and inspired by the city’s blustery weather, was installed on the Miramar cutting near the airport in 2012 at a cost of $80,000. It belongs to Wellington Airport, a joint venture between infrastructure investor Infratil and the Wellington City Council.
Approached for comment, a spokesperson for the airport said they had noticed the graffiti but had decided to leave it, at least for the time being.
“We were surprised and disappointed to see the graffiti. It is private property and a dangerous spot to access, so not a good idea for anyone to attempt,” said Phil Rennie, the airport’s external relations manager. “It is a light colour scheme which means it isn’t that noticeable from a distance, so we’ve left it ‘as is’ for now.”
The graffiti was only possible because the sign’s resource consent prevents it being illuminated at night – allowing the artist to operate under the cover of darkness.
He says he decided to paint the sign after flying into Wellington and noticing it was starting to rust. “That’s just gross,” he remembers thinking at the time. “I’m going to put some colour on that.”
A week later he filled a backpack with paints and gear, left home at about 9.30pm, and drove to a spot above the sign. He says he bushwhacked his way through the shrub to the sign, where he worked until sunrise. “It was a straight seven-and-a-half-hour slog, no breaks, just went for it.”
The design he used is one common among graffiti artists, he says. “It’s when you take all your leftover spray cans and make a multi-coloured fill-in before you do the outline. The letters were already there, so I thought I’d do the rainbow, Paddle Pop fill-in.”
The hairiest part of the operation was painting the letters “T-O-N”, which lift off from the base of the sign as if they are being blown away. The sign is “way bigger than it looks”, says the artist. “When you’re actually there you are tiny. To get the last little bits… It was scary, it’s such a big drop.”
He thought the reception to his work would be mixed. What he wasn’t expecting was silence. “Nobody said anything, not even my mates who knew that it would’ve been me.
“But now I’m stoked it slipped through the cracks. I guess a few confused people thought it was [painted for] Art Week. Other people thought it was for Pride Week.
“Everyone is confused because nobody knows the reason for it. But there was no reason for it.”