Creative Patapatai

Alex McLeod

Before Alex McLeod was an artist, his jobs included rubbish dump man (a childhood dream), and Shakespearian stage actor. Read on to find out more about Alex, and his wishes for an art supplies store here in Tauranga…

Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):

Mural artist, graphic designer, sign maker.

What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?

I was born in Masterton and went to secondary school in the Hutt Valley. I then studied at the School of Design in Wellington for four years. I was pretty restless post study so after a few years working I was fortunate to get in a fair bit of overseas travel including working trips in Melbourne, Ho Chi Minh and London. I also did stints of travel through Asia, Mexico, Central America, Europe and Africa.  I met my future wife in London who is also a Kiwi. We returned to New Zealand in 2009 and lived for a year in New Plymouth. We then did a seven year stretch in Hamilton before liberation to the idyllic shores of Papamoa.

What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?

My Papa, who I remember would sit me on his knee and retell classics like Jack and the Beanstalk. My other grandfather had fishing stories from the glory days when he was young. I was drawn to stories of adventure and travel and kept some favourites which are now on my kids’ bookshelves.

What’s your favourite Bay of Plenty landscape, park, building, location, suburb, or side street? Why?

Hanging out on Papamoa Beach with the family. Time seems to stand still and the salt air and outlook lifts everyone’s mood.

What’s an average day in your life at present?   

I’m lucky to have a good amount of variety and flexibility in my working life and I get a kick out of getting to make stuff for a living. I have a couple of young kids so attending to their needs is a constant. Other than that it could be mural design or painting, designing and making signs, the admin that goes with being self employed, or one of many distractions – surfing, fishing, mountain biking…

What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?

I’d say I found my musical groove later in life and don’t really connect now with as much music from my youth. Access to music was far more limited pre the internet! Paul Simon is one from my parent’s collection I’d still listen to.

For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?

David Mitchell (the Irish author, not the comedian). Bill Callahan (the American musician). Yuval Noah Harari (Israeli thinker/author).

If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?   

Johney’s Dumplings, the Mount Hot Pools, and kayak fishing out East.

If you had to eat the same meal every day, what would it be?   

The same thing everyday is going to get tiresome pretty quick! For the planet, I’d say a plant based meal that gives me all the nutrition I need. Although I do love fresh fish with homegrown veg or salad. A good sausage is hard to beat too!

What are you planning for 2021 that nobody knows about yet?  

Get my kids into surfing!

Who are your favourite or most admired figures from history?

I’m in awe of people who undertake massive creative projects. Movie directors like Peter Jackson for example. When I’m in the midst of a mural my head is spinning and I run on adrenaline for the duration of the project. I can’t imagine how someone can create a trilogy of movies over the course of years with hundreds of people to direct and so many ideas and decisions to contend with. How would you ever switch off?

I’m also indebted to my own ancestors for surviving what must have been very challenging situations. I’d love to sit down with some of my direct ancestors from 200 years ago, 500 years ago and 2000 years ago and hear what life was really like for them at those times.

If the Prime Minister asked you to make up a new policy or law for New Zealand, what would it be?

An 8-day week: 5 working days and a 3 day weekend, although things might not sync up quite as well with the lunar calendar as they do now…

In one sentence, can you define art?

A creation which distills and embodies a collective feeling or stage in time which is otherwise difficult to express or define.

What is missing or lacking from your Bay of Plenty community or environment?

A great art supplies store! To buy quality spray paint or street art supplies I need to order it from Hamilton or Auckland. There is one store I’m aware of here. It’s good we have something but unfortunately they don’t stock these items and are only open 14 hours a week. Tauranga is the 5th largest city in NZ and has a thriving arts sector. Surely there is an opportunity for someone to fill this gap. I know Gordon Harris have contemplated opening a store here  – the time is right!

Name a few films that you consider profound, moving or extraordinary?

The Lives of Others, Incendies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, A Clockwork Orange, The Matrix, Birdman, Pulp Fiction, Inception, Dumb and Dumber.

What was your first real job, second, third?

I worked for a while at the Masterton Rubbish Dump and Recycling Centre which was actually the fulfilment of a childhood ambition. As a kid I narrowed down my two preferred occupations to astronaut or rubbish dump man. The latter came out tops. Back in the 80s, Dad was always taking loads to the dump. Us kids would tag along and be allowed to set up bottles and try to smash them by throwing stones. Then we’d get to ride home sitting in the empty trailer! Who wouldn’t want a job like that?

I did a stint of commercial fishing including a bit of commercial paua diving. Oh, and I was also a professional Shakespearian stage actor – true story!

After ticking off quite a few ‘unusual jobs’, it was working for signwriting companies which helped me on the path to finding my way as a commercial artist.

Where would you like to live, but have yet to?

I got the wanderer out of my system; I’m happy to be living here.

What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?

Stick at it; most will drop off. If I’m experiencing resistance I try to remind myself that just get started is the best thing I can do. Once you begin you give your brain permission to start solving all the what ifs that were holding you back.

What’s the biggest problem about life in New Zealand? How you would solve it?

The cost of housing is quite scary. It seems to be accelerating the gap between rich and poor and owning a home is becoming more and more out of reach for future generations. It’s not a popular idea but I believe the best solution is to implement a property tax to stymie the property market. This would result in far more investment in NZ businesses and innovation.

What is your dream of happiness?

Living in ‘Papadise’ and being grateful for everything.


More about Alex

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