Tess Sheerin is an artist hailing from Aotearoa, New Zealand. Her work combines art and action, educating and inspiring change on issues of pollution awareness, mental health and wildlife conservation.
She was one of the first artists to paint large scale murals post-earthquake in hometown Christchurch, New Zealand. Her murals are hand painted in a distinctive black and white style contrasting with expressive bursts of colours. Tess’ work featured in Peter Young’s award winning documentary The Art of Recovery and Tony Robinson’s (AKA Blackadder) television show Time Walks. Surprisingly in 2013, in the Lonely Planet, Christchurch was labelled one of the street art capitals of the world.
An avid experimentalist, Tess brings a dynamic energy which evolves during the restricted time-frame for her murals. Her creative process incorporates techniques that explore movement by physically paint-bombing buildings, using fire extinguishers, and pouring paint down textured surfaces. An Evil Twisted Horse took to the wall’s stage at Canterbury Museums street art festival RISE 2013/14. During this period of time Tess completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) at the University of Canterbury.
Although murals are a large part of her work, they are not her only interest. Tess’ expertise with charcoal is evident when viewing her meticulous wildlife interpretations. Another recurring theme is the use of found objects; broken surfboards, doors and various pieces of rubble are morphed into sculptures, paintings and even a plastic straw protest installation.
Prior to her return to New Zealand, Tess’ recycled surfboard series Sea School, created in Cornwall, England, was exhibited alongside the works of Banksy, Black Le Rat, Swoon, Faile, Shepard Fairey and Herakut in Belgraves Gallery’s annual Urban Art exhibition. From there the series went on to exhibit in a variety of galleries in the United Kingdom, with some picked up by collectors in Europe, America and Canada.
In 2015, Tess teamed up with a friend with a passion for photography, and together embarked on a three year pollution awareness mural tour in New Zealand, dubbed New Zealand’s Worth Loving. The tour aimed to highlight pressing issues of water pollution and its damaging effects on New Zealand’s wildlife. Auckland’s crayfish mural sparked controversy with some of the local council but a poll on Stuff.co.nz revealed widespread local support from the community.
During the tour Tess inspired action by teaming up with various environmental initiatives and charities; Sustainable Queenstown, Our Seas Our Future, Gap Filler, Avon Ontario Network, Keep New Zealand Beautiful and Sustainable Coastlines. The completion of each mural was celebrated with a clean-up event.
Tess’ first solo show; Creature Collective featured four bodies of work and premiered the Drainbow Trout’ mural process video at The Queenstown Art Centre in 2016. A review in the Otago Daily Times explained;
“While every piece gives the impression of careful planning and detail, she allows paint to drip and slide, making the actual creation of art an energetic, kinetic part of the final captured image. Paint-bombing buildings, splattering colour: these are actions that are often used in more aggressive social activism, but here Sheerin uses them to create something beautiful, a quieter form of protest that still makes itself heard.”
In 2017 they received the Canon Oceania Grants - Inspiring Tomorrow Award.
Following an interim in Nepal, Tess worked towards a plan for a public large scale whale sculpture that combated serious issues around sustainability in a fun and lighthearted way.
However failing to control the work/life balance Tess suffered from a breakdown in 2018 and was forced to face unprocessed issues with her battle to tame the black dog. Tess sees the experience as life changing and likes to remember a friend's comment that “all things must breakdown before they can break through”. Isolation and uncertainty are part of an artists job description, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Tess discovered how her own journey related to the wider community.
While accepting then embracing that suffering is inevitably part of the human condition, it did led to the creation of 'Rejuvenate' in 2022. Painted in recognition of The Key to Life Charitable Trust. The mural aims to inspire empathy and erase the stigma surrounding mental health issues. These messages are portrayed through the inspiration of Aotearoa’s unique taonga wildlife. "Noah the Moa" is asking for reconnection, growth and gratitude. "Karma Kiwi" requests love and kindness and "Balance Bee" requires balance and nutrition.
Connecting with nature is a proven way to improve our mental health; wellbeing of the environment and our own wellbeing are intertwined. Ka ora te whenua, ka ora te tangata; When the land is well, we are well.