His name is Phat1, aka Charles Williams. He is a street-artist from New Zealand, where he started as a graffiti rebel spraying the walls of Auckland. But he got married (with another street artist, Lady Diva), got four children and now uses his talents for the promotion of indigenous culture and young artists. He is also a huge indigenous birds geek and lover.
We met him in Tahiti, while he was painting a huge Omama’o, or Tahitian Mornarch. This bird only counts about 50 individuals alive in the world. “In New Zealand, my wife Janine and I paint birds all the time and we try to paint local birds when we go to another country. This is because birds talk about the stories, legends and tales of the place ; they talk about the way the environment is changing ; they also talk about our link to our culture… And above all, we love birds!” the artist explained to Tahiti Infos.
He’s now an internationally recognized artist, since he started joining international competitions and exhibitions in 2006 in Germany, then 2010 in Florida. He even has a spray can named after him, “Phat1 True Royal” from global art supplier Ironlak.
He recently won the Ono’u International Street Art Festival in Tahiti in 2015 against 30 of the best graffiti artists in the world. In true Phat1 style, he took the victory with a mural of a red-vented bulbul, a small but agressive bird that can be found all across the Pacific, with the message “Is real graffiti dead?”.
But he is also well known for being a pioneer in mixing Maoritanga, traditional Māori culture and art, with street art. As Stuff.co.nz puts it: “Researching their feathered subjects and their traditions brought about a realisation the birds were “really connected to who we are as Maori”, says Janine, whose ancestry is Ngati Paoa and Ngati Whatua. “We were urban Maori and we didn’t know what that meant culturally.” The couple, now studying te reo Maori, started “learning our whakapapa, going to our whenua, and then realized why we were painting birds”, Charles says. “We were there to tell our stories”.”
They also help at-risk youth with a Tag Free program: instead of doing illegal graffitis, high school (secondary school in NZ) students can learn the art from Williams and Janine. Back to the roots for these graffiti artists who understand best of all how graffiti is truly a pure form art: a way to express oneself, be it creatively or in rage. They now help these young understand it as well…
Check out all the murals of Phat1 and Lady Diva on their website. Here is one of our favorite:
Featured photo: ‘Tautoko’ – Ahuriri (Napier) / Pangeaseed: Murals for Oceans (Bar-tailed Godwit) / Photo: Charles Williams