Wagga-born, New York-based street artist Damien Mitchell makes his mark on city

Damien Mitchell grew up in Wagga, but is now living in New York as a street artist. Supplied: Damien Mitchell
Damien Mitchell grew up in Wagga, but is now living in New York as a street artist. Supplied: Damien Mitchell

STREET art was always a tool for Damien Mitchell to use to get his voice heard as a teenager growing up in Wagga.

Now 34 years old he is living in New York surrounded by people from all over the world with different stories to tell and he's "very lucky to throw his own voice into that ring".

"I have always saw street art and graffiti as a great way to get an idea across as a political tool," he said.

"As a teenager I wanted to get out and say what I thought I had to say and what better way than to say it publicly on a wall."

A plumbing-themed mural painted on the side of a plumbing business in Wagga. Supplied: Damien Mitchell

A plumbing-themed mural painted on the side of a plumbing business in Wagga. Supplied: Damien Mitchell

It was also a fun way to get out the house and explore Wagga, he said. And with very little political-driven graffiti happening around the city - and never signing his name - he never coped any backlash.

But from an early age, he always knew there could be greater opportunities out there for him. Despite his "fond memories" of Wagga, he said its limitations had pushed him to go explore other places.

When he turned 18 years old Mr Mitchell moved to Prague for a few years, then on to Ukraine and so forth before moving to America where he has now lived for eight years, all while painting pictures for a living - sometimes legally and other times not so much, he admits.

Depending on how this year pans out, he said he could also end up in Ghana and Mexico on a couple of painting trips.

Although he is currently in Australia for another week where he has already left his stamp on his hometown and wider Riverina.

A mural under a Wagga bridge dedicated to the medical workers putting their lives at risk. Picture: Damien Mitchell.

A mural under a Wagga bridge dedicated to the medical workers putting their lives at risk. Picture: Damien Mitchell.

"I did a couple of jobs in Finley, which were commissioned, couple of permission walls done legally, but for fun and a couple of others that I felt needed to be said," he said.

Among them, here in Wagga, is the mural located under a bridge, painted in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic for the medical workers putting their lives on the line.

The other - a joint project - was done "purely for fun" with a couple of friends on the side of a plumbing store.

"There are so many reasons to paint these days. Whether you are doing it for just the pure thrill of it or the aesthetic of it or you want to make a statement," he said.

Throughout his career, Mr Mitchell had been able to meet "some pretty interesting people" - Michelle Obama for one - but the highlight will always be evoking reactions with his work, be that positive or negative.

"Any time you are painting a wall, and someone gets something from it ... that is the reason you do it," he said.

"It is the sharing of ideas, building a community and starting conversations."

Street art was once used as "a sign of a neighbourhood falling apart" often labelled as "a quality of life crime," he said. But it is an art form that has become "more accepted and more widespread" in the past three decades.

"These days it can be used as a tool of gentrification and it can be seen as a neighbouhood that has a lot of murals, not graffiti - it's a neighbourhood on the rise," he said.

Because of this, he said the street art community has become more robust right around the globe. Like any niche, Mr Mitchell said finding a community that supports his passion is important.

"Anywhere there are people pushing each other, making you work harder and supporting you - you are going to have a strong community where bigger and more ambitious protects are completed," he said.

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"That's why I really like New York in that sense. There are people from all over the world with different stories and experiences to speak about."

Although Mr Mitchell said he would love to be able to paint more in Wagga. He thought the city was becoming more appreciative of street art, particularly with its Lost Lanes Festival.

He said this graffiti-style festival could be used as a way to support and grow more local talent.

"I think like anywhere if you try and grow something you have tend to your own garden first," he said.

"It would be good if they can support more local artists who are coming up. I think that's going to come back in a positive way as that festival progresses."

And for those with a passion for street art, Mr Mitchell said people need to just "practice and paint as much as they can".

"We can all practice to paint pretty pictures, but if the idea is lacking then it is going to be lacking," he said.

"Think about what is important to you, how to synthesis that into an image and go put it on a wall before someone else does."

This story Wagga to the Big Apple: Street artist makes his mark on city first appeared on The Daily Advertiser.