Message in a Mural

Artist Tess Sheerin is on a mission: To draw attention to the damaging effects of coastal pollution.  And to draw, well paint, is literally the way she is doing this.

The wall enclosing Hurstmere Road's Wilson Carpark, on the side of the Bruce Mason Centre facing The Elephant Wrestler, has become a colourful talking point for Takapuna. Clamp Fish, as the massive new mural is titled, is the work of Takapuna-based artist Tess - part of a nationwide series of large scale artworks that make up her ‘New Zealand’s Worth Loving’ project. 

“I wanted to communicate with people who are not usually within the arts community; people who are on their way to work, or the beach, or a cafe or wherever," explains Tess. 

“Street art has grown in popularity over the years and I thought this would be an interesting way to spread a message I feel strongly about.”

And that message is: “I am highlighting the effects that coastal pollution is having on our wildlife, and us.”

“People need to understand that drains lead to the sea and that plastic left on our beaches has a hugely damaging impact on marine life and flows down the food chain. It’s a massive issue!”

The Takapuna mural follows on from Drainbow in Queenstown, Poorly Penguin in Dunedin, Unsealed in Christchurch and precedes the final mural in the series - Doubtful Dolphin, to get underway in Wellington later this year. All murals depict marine creatures morphed with anti-pollution messages. 

The tour has involved a huge amount of planning and execution. Tess has had to research, then approach the owners of, buildings with walls large enough to paint murals on to create impact. Then apply for permissions and grants to ensure everything was both legal and financially viable. Then there’s the cherry picker she uses, all the paint and materials and lots and lots of time. Although she is grateful for grants from SkyCity and several councils along the way, Tess has had to dig deep into her own savings to make the Takapuna mural happen after grant funding for this piece fell through. 

The self-taught artist, who lives off Hurstmere Road, usually likes to work on small charcoal pieces but has clearly upsized. She has had to enlist the aid of a cherry picker to paint those hard to reach places, of which there are many. “Man, it’s big!" She exclaims. But size sometimes matters. "It’s great hearing people commenting when they walk by. They can’t help but notice it and it gets them talking, and thinking.”

Tess has always had a deep love of nature, growing up on a blueberry and walnut farm near Christchurch. And she wants people to think before inadvertently destroying it. She has engaged in beach clean ups at all of the places she's painted at on the tour and has been shocked and saddened by the amount of litter, particularly plastic, found on the beaches. “Plastic bottle caps, plastic straws, plastic cutlery particularly and all these tiny pieces of plastic, which have been broken down. Fish and other marine life are eating this rubbish, and then when we eat these fish, crayfish or whatever, these toxins are then passed down the food chain.” 

She has been dismayed not only by the amounts of litter she has come across on her travels, but to find out how marine life is disappearing. For example, crayfish, which were previously plentiful in the Hauraki Gulf, are now sparse on the waters surrounding the North Shore.

“The art is not everybody’s style. Art never is. But that doesn’t matter. It’s about getting people to think.”

Follow Tess’s tour at 


By Heather Vermeer

Channel Magazine: Issue 76 May 2017. Access the article at Channel Magazine online, click HERE.