• Nicol Sanders-O’Shea

Nostalgic children’s book illustrations, animals, cowboys, rocket-ships and Covid safety warnings are mashed-up in Nicol Sanders-O’Shea’s latest project. Her award-winning art practice centres on multi- layered screen-prints, as she repurposes 1950s children’s annuals and other found imagery in a world that is simultaneously playful and mysterious, jarring and alluring.

Sanders-O’Shea has long appropriated the distinctive line illustrations of mid-century childhood, but new in the last year are decorative snaking lines and curved forms that allude to the iconography of Covid-19. And while her embrace of a bright palette is also typical, those colours have shifted to the high-visibility range of workplace safety: striking green, pink, orange, and above all yellow. In the last eighteen months no resident of Aotearoa could be unaware of the emergency-services-hued diagonal stripe, adopted far and wide first by Government and then private and commercial organisations. In these works the stripe is eschewed for repeat areas of half-tone dots that evoke print processes, as well as gestural paint strokes. Strong yellows echo the AA or an ambulance - be alarmed, but soothed as help is on its way.

Over these colourful backgrounds, the artist has orchestrated a romp, a joyous but troubled mélange of characters and landscapes, into which she brings in alarmist lettering sprawling graphic-comic-style across the images: “JUSTICE BEFORE BREAKFAST”, The BATTLE”, and “GAAAH! I SHOULD HAVE STAYED AT HOME!”. There is disorder and disruption, chaos and vitality, a dazzling wealth of intriguing detail. Children push an elephant - is it the “Covid” elephant in the room? Schoolboys square up to box and cowboys reach for their guns – what are these conflicts about? Sanders-O’Shea plays with the repeat: a sea of airborne bubbles seemingly encase old-school fighter planes and hands are washed over and over. Her Brave New World is a place where “coming home is tricky, battles have a start but no finish, and coughing is the new smoking.”

It’s all so confusing, or is that simply a 2021-era reaction? As the pandemic steps us up and down the levels, our minds fracture and concentration is lost. Life itself is now a whirl of images and messages, fear and hope entwined. Sanders-O’Shea asks us to examine our feelings around Covid, to think about staying home and venturing out, while encouraging us out by creating an entertaining and enlivening public artwork for the carefully landscaped but somewhat uniformly grey Durham Street. Passers-by and art buffs alike will be provoked and puzzled by her repeating motifs and yet disparate collages, while children may delight at her cartoonish ensembles. Sanders-O’Shea expresses her intention to distract and detract, in an echo of advertisers’ purposes, but her message is less clear. Come home, stay at home, take on ‘The BATTLE’ – or is it all the same thing?

Text: Liz Cooper

Nicol Sanders-O'Shea received an MFA with first class honours from Elam School of Fine Arts (1995). She is a screen-print specialist and is currently the Academic Leader for Arts at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.

Brave New World has been developed for the Tauranga Arts Festival by Supercut Projects. Generously supported by Creative New Zealand and Tauranga City Council.


  • This public exhibition is available to view 24/7


  • Durham Street flagpoles
  • Tauranga City Centre