The Great Kiwi Childhood: Owen Dippie
7 March 2017
The Great Kiwi childhood. What is it? Does it even exist? Whatever their childhood looks life, Unicef NZ believes every child deserves a safe, rewarding and loving one. A childhood that they can look back on fondly as an adult, and recall those special moments that helped shape who they are.
To celebrate Children’s Day, we’ve spoken with some well-known New Zealanders about their upbringings, how their childhoods shaped them, and what they hope for the nation’s kids.
Owen Dippie is one of New Zealand’s foremost artists, and has become known for combining street art and spray painting with classical works of art. His work is highly sought-after, and can be found on buildings throughout the country.
I was just ten years old when I had my first ever street art exhibition. It was Christmas, and my father made me go around all the businesses in Kawerau and paint all of their windows.
So while you could say that I always have done art, the truth is it has been my only option. I have a one track mind – and it belongs to art.
I grew up in Kawerau, a small town in the Bay of Plenty, which was built around a sawmill. My grandfather started the service station there, which my father eventually ran.
Everyone knew each other in Kawerau. We were river kids. We swam in the river and jumped out of trees, we went to camps up the East Coast and stayed in marae.
It was an amazing childhood, there was bush, we spent most of our days at the river.
Sometimes, we’d take tyres from dad’s service station and go all the way out of Kawerau so that we could float down the river back into town. The Tarawera river is also very close, and most of the kids in Kawerau grew up in and around it.
My parents were very much into the conventional, 9-5 working day, so they always found my choice of profession, as an artist, difficult to accept.
They were straight workers. Hard workers. My father would be gone before we woke up each morning, then he’d come home, have dinner and go to sleep. That was life repeated; he had a really strong work ethic. There wasn’t a lot of time off for dad. Work always came first.
For me, art came first. Even if someone was talking to me, I would pick up a pen and start talking – it was how I coped.
Whereas my mother has always supported me and always believed in what I do, my father and I have butted heads a lot over the years. In fact, he only realised the potential in my art very recently.
Maybe it was because I was so different to him? My brother is 18 months older than me; he’s the spitting image of my father – the blue collar working man, the rugby player. I was the skateboarder.
Later, I was sent away to boarding school – St Paul’s in Hamilton. It was shockingly different, because at that time, Kawerau was all I knew. I had gone from a heavily Maori town where we didn’t even bother to wear shoes, to a white, Christian, suit-and-tie environment. It was crazy!
I got into a bit of trouble, but then I threw myself into art. It’s no exaggeration to say that my art teacher, Mike Linklater, changed my life. He introduced me to the art of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat. It was like he flicked a switch in my head. Thanks to him, I decided to take art seriously.
A lot of people become infatuated with the person behind the art, but I am quite a shy person. I was quite a shy kid, but I’ve found myself getting more shy as I grow older.
I like to let the art speak for itself. And for me.