When one of New Zealand’s hip hop pioneers met one of our pioneering artists, he felt challenged for the first time in years.
Darryl Thomson – better known in music circles as DLT – says when he met arts icon and educator Sandy Adsett at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Heretaunga, “he challenged me”.
“No one’s challenged me in 30 years, and I liked it,” he says.
“You get to the age where you think you know everything, but you don’t. He turned my brain inside out, he gave me so much. And you either sulk, or you take it up and I’m at the age now where sulking doesn’t work. So I’m a very grateful person for him to even spend the time barking at me.”
Darryl had moved back to Heretaunga in 2014 to care for his mother after a successful career as one of our pioneering hip hop and graffitti artists. He grew up in Maraenui in Napier and while he had been drawing pictures all his life he had never received any formal training.
“The usual story bro, poor upbringing, no assets, nothing, no father. My older brother was very smart and saw that art was a way of keeping the mind busy, so we drew every day. All the way through my music career I still drew and designed.”
Now, thanks to the mentoring from Sandy, he’s just months away from completing the Maunga Kura Toi Bachelor of Māori Art degree at Toimairangi at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Heretaunga.
“What was missing from my world is now here, thanks to that guy,” he says.
“He didn’t teach me how to use a brush, he taught me why you think and consider all things. Things like intention, content, composition, tracking, all those things to consider. I’d done graffiti for 30 years and I’d never considered it, I just ran with it.”
Darryl says at his first interview to get onto the programme, he was asked what he did and didn’t like. After revealling a disdain for Picasso – “because he’s everywhere, posters, tea towels, he’s overdone” – he was told by Sandy to “study Picasso and get back to me”.
“I’ve got three massive Picasso books at home that I’d never read. So I went home and read the books, and I fell in love, I got the aesthetic of what’s going on. As soon as I did some research on it, I understood it, then I transferred that post apocalyptic war vibe to a Māori world.”
The references can be seen in his Deconstructed Tiki series, some of which appear in the Ahi Toi exhibiton alongside Toi Koru, Sandy’s first major retrospective exhibition currently on at Pātaka Art + Museum in Porirua.
Darryl says learning from Sandy had been a massive privilege and made him not only a better artist but a better person.
“Sandy helped me to see myself, that’s pretty intense bro. He made me a way nicer person because he’s taught me to be considerate. I thought I was a considerate kind of guy but no, it was my way or the highway,” he says.
“Sandy can see you coming from miles away. He reminds me of a Pharoah having an audience with people, it’s something else. I’ve met other people like Sandy and you have to check to see whether they’re levitating or something, because they’re so enlightened. When that guy blesses your stuff, you feel good.”