Sprawled across the walls of two of Dunedin’s favourite cafés – Morning Magpie (46 Stuart Street) and Wolf at the Door (6 Carroll Street) – are two imposing works of art. The first is a contemporary ode to Thomas Gainsborough’s painting The Blue Boy, the second is a haunting watercolour replica of a photograph of an Indian family. The artist behind both is Tyler Kennedy Stent, who at 20 years of age is already making waves in the local artist community. Stent grew up just north of Auckland but was drawn to Dunedin after travelling. “I was travelling through India and I realised I couldn’t travel forever. I want to keep travelling but I want to do it my way,” says Stent.
In the presence of Stent’s artwork, it’s hard to believe that not only does he not have any formal training but he only started painting a few years ago. “I was in my last stage of high school, I was going through some stuff; usually I’d write about it but the words wouldn’t come so I started painting to express what words can’t,” Stent says.
Stent had planned on studying classics at University of Otago but a fascination with tattooing took hold. “I can travel and earn a living doing it. It’s far more realistic than travelling with a classics degree,” he jests. Currently undertaking a tattooing apprenticeship at Dissident Art Studio, Stent says the art is “like relearning how to paint. It’s a very restrictive media, with watercolours you let the water and the paint do most of the work – you just guide it.”
Every spare moment Stent gets, he’s creating, and travelling is still his muse. He says India was particularly eye-opening: travelling through the country was great until the last week when the reality of how people live and survive in a developing country started to sink in. Stent works closely with a photographer friend of his, frequently painting his photographs. The two have an ambition to take profits from the artworks sold back to communities in need. “I don’t want too much of myself to escape from the art, it’s not me I’m trying to capture, it’s something bigger.”
Four months ago Stent decided to approach local art gallery, The Artists Room (2 Dowling Street) for representation. “I had a few paintings and they said to put them in the exhibition, so I did and they sold.” Even though Dunedin might be a temporary base for Stent before wanderlust beckons again, the city’s artistic vibe has enabled him to define himself as an artist. “It’s a place where I can get my career going; it’s helped me grow. None of this would be possible with the people and the environment helping me.”