Britomart People / TYRONE OHIA

Some people can get you smiling as soon as they walk in the room. Tyrone Ohia is one of those people – relentlessly positive, full of ideas, thoughtful and interested in everything that’s going on around him. We talked to him about his new Works on Paper, his influences, and being a new dad.

Britomart: The posters you’ve created for our Works on Paper series look amazing. Can you tell us about how you formulated your response to the very open brief we gave you? All of us have things that get burnt into our brains. Sometimes, these things can be hard to shake, and they end up affecting the way we look at the world. Recently a friend told me that, in earlier times, our tūpuna used the leaves of the whau tree to wrap newborn babies. He might’ve been pulling my leg, but if you’ve ever felt a whau leaf, you’ll know they’re very soft, softer than a Kleenex. Every time I see a whau, I see a baby wrapped in its leaves. And I can’t unsee it.

The stories of our reclaimed waterfront, and the shifting Waitematā shoreline have had a similar effect on me. The land has long since been reclaimed, but the original shoreline is still there if you squint your eyes. When I’m in Britomart, I see the shoreline, mixed with the sights and sounds of the city.

You’re a graphic designer. How would you describe your visual style or approach? Graphic design is about having visual conversations with people. In order to have a good conversation I need to look people in the eye, I need to listen, and I need to know a bit about the topic at hand. People are smart, they know when you’re faking a smile, so it pays to put your heart into it as much as possible.

You say on your website that design is for the people. Do you mind expanding a bit on what you mean by that? It’s a reminder to keep people at the centre of the conversation. If people need love, design them a kiss. If people need to laugh, design them a joke. If people are falling to sleep, slap them in the face.

You have Ngāti Pūkenga ancestry. Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing in Tauranga, and how your Māori ancestry influences your work? I was born in Tauranga but raised in Whanganui. Despite the distance, we’re a pretty tight knit whānau. And a large, talented whānau at that. I’m not one to be biased, but I’ve got whanaunga role models for every area of life; sports, arts, education, karaoke, you name it! Seeing them all do their thing as humble, hardworking and caring people is the best sort of inspiration you can get.

Where do you like to hang out in Auckland? I like to hang out around food. Little Yum in Northcote for noodles and dumplings. The Don on High St for late night Japanese. Pak ’n’ Save Wairau Valley for pies. Dizengoff for flat whites and toasted coconut loaf. Seabreeze Cafe for cheese scones. Conch. Beach Haven Takeaways for fish and chips. The Flaming Onion for burgers. Anywhere on Dominion Rd.

You recently became a Dad. How’s that going? It’s going well. We’ve got a healthy and happy little girl. She seems to be 100 percent perfect, doesn’t do anything wrong, and will probably grow up to be Prime Minister. As for me I’m struggling to keep the whau leaf cupboard full.

Tyrone Ohia has created 30 different posters that are now on display on the fences around the construction site of The Hotel Britomart, on the corner of Gore and Customs Street East. Photos by Joe Hockley