Broken surfboard, paint it. Rock, paint it. Deer skull, paint it.
If it has a surface, Walter “Bub” Dewes (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu) is happy to make it into art.
His exhibition, Year of the Mask, is a nod to lockdowns and fabric-covered faces in town. His work is a cathartic sigh and a joyful expletive slapped on to whatever is near when Bub picks up the brush.
He's no Michelangelo, who slaved away for years on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but Bub is a veritable powerhouse of artistic production, pumping out two to three paintings a week.
As part of the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, Tūpara Gallery is covered with almost 50 pieces of Bub's art, which represent the last two years of creativity.
“There's still heaps in my garage and in the house. I've probably given away about 100 pieces over the last two years to friends and family.”
Now and then, Bub paints smaller pieces and sells them online so friends can snag a piece when they might not be able to afford the large works.
Bub was brought up on a farm in Ruatoria and schooled at Ngata College.
In the ‘90s, he lived on the Coast, surfed a lot, listened to music and ended up at Toihoukura, EIT's School of Māori Visual Arts.
Leaving the rugged shores and pine trees behind, Bub moved to Australia, where he bounced around the country's east coast for about five years.
“My partner at the time was a doctor in astrophysics. So I just travelled around with her for her job.
“She got a job in Hawaii and asked if I wanted to move, so I said, ‘Sure, why not'.”
They got married, bought a house, and then she told him she didn't want kids — a deal-breaker for Bub.
“Then I realised it was better to come home. It seemed to be the right time.”
Back in Ruatoria for almost ten years, he's been busy.
“Since I've been back home I've been painting my ass off.”
Bubs' style is eclectic and colourful, mad and dangerous.
“It's evolved over the years. After 30 years of painting, it's just turned into this. I've tried painting other ways but it always sort of turns into this.
“It's contemporary Maori, but it's my style.”
The streets and surf continue to influence his work.
“I grew up skateboarding which was a huge influence . . . I've got a lot of friends into street art and graffiti.
“It's quite alternative living on the coast. Everyone was into rugby. Me and my brothers were into surfing.
“F--- team sports, I'll go down to the beach.”
Although Bub is physically isolated in the hills of Ruatoria, his inspiration comes from artists around the world.
“I jump on Instagram and look at what other people are doing because that pushes me. There's so much shit out there, just so much at your fingertips.
“I pretty much live in the perfect place, no neighbours for kilometres. I just chill and focus on painting. And playing music as loud as I want and getting out of control.”
Music is a massive part of Bub's life.
“If I'm not painting, I'm doing mash-ups of weird shit.”
At the opening of Year of the Mask at Tūpara Gallery, Bub's music was on blast with Lady Gaga vocals spliced in between deep electronic cuts, something more familiar to a Berlin basement than a Gladstone Road gallery.
Music is also a part of his painting.
“Blast some music, and away you go, you just go on autopilot.”
Sometimes that works out. Sometimes it doesn't.
“I enjoy creating stuff. I enjoy making a mess — throwing paint and seeing how it turns out. I gradually work at it and see if it turns into something that's OK. Then a week later, I'll paint over it and do it again.”
A lot goes into a single piece but Bub doesn't want to tell the viewer what to see.
“I prefer them to interpret what they see in it. Sometimes they see things I don't even intend . . . I hear this story and I think, ‘Wow, I never thought of it like that'.
“I have my own personal things in them . . . certain symbols mean the same thing.”
The lightning bolt represents the act of thinking and the ‘x' represents healing, “like a bandaid, recovering from the dramas in life”.
The birds are the loved ones who have passed on.
“My mum passed 25-plus years ago. She was a big influence in my life. I put that in to remember her.
But Bub doesn't want his art to be too intense.
“So many people are so serious when it comes to art. Just like f--- man, you don't have to be serious all the time. Have a good laugh.
“Nothing is sacred, but at the same time, everything is important.”
Year of the Mask is showing at Tupara Gallery until the end of Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival on October 17. Gallery hours are from 9am to 2pm, Monday to Friday.