Whitecliffe College founder's son, Laken, on art, mental health and creating a legacy his father would be proud of

The artist is following in the footsteps of his father, Greg Whitecliffe, while creating a legacy of his own.
The artist is following in the footsteps of his father, Greg Whitecliffe, while creating a legacy of his own. Photo credit: Supplied / Laken Whitecliffe.

Laken Whitecliffe has turned to art as an avenue to manage everyday stress and events that challenge his mental health since he was a boy. 

He sold his first painting at just nine years old soon after he lost his father in 2001, accomplished artist and educator, Greg Whitecliffe.  

"The constant presence of his legacy in Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design is a key component to my growth as an artist," he told Newshub. 

As Whitecliffe continues to seek success on his own terms, he is now using his talent and network to sell art to raise money for three local charities. 

The exhibition will open to the public on December 4th and will remain open for free viewings until the 15th. 

He says the initiative allows him to give back to people putting New Zealanders first while raising money for organisations working on the frontline. 

His strong interest in wanting to break stigma still associated with mental health stems from losing two mates to suicide by 21. 

"It's something we need to keep talking about."   

Whitecliffe believes that surrounding life with art offers a way into exploring all ranges of emotions and says it's a great tool to help cleanse the mind. 

"Art is its own language that everyone can read in their own way. Its an escape, or chance to bring brightness, or colour into your life." 

Laken will paint live pieces to the music throughout the day on December 8th which features performances by Tiki Taane, Mt Eden, Daily J and No Cigar. 

The pair struck up a friendship after Taane posed in a pool to take the photo used as the portrait's source. 

More than eight years later, the artwork is complete and the frame made from Kauri is ready to showcase the project's hard work. 

He's dedicated to inspiring others to embrace art in their homes and streets while encouraging people to take up creative outlets of their own.   

Whitecliffe is keen to be remembered for pieces that bring joy, relate to stories or draw some sort of reaction. 

"If it makes them think, or feel something moving, great. If they hate it, that’s ok too," he says. 

"I hope my sense of wonder comes through within my work and my exploration of the aspects of nature, humanity and identity." 

He's seen first hand the incredible impact art can have on others, explaining his most moving experience was at a refugee centre in Cairo. 

Whitecliffe handed out brushes to young children he met and one girl with a "massive smile" on her face stood out as she gave life to her vivid imagination 

Only weeks earlier she had lost her entire family. 

"If a kid who had been through so much could get so much joy from a moment of painting, then that moment is proof for me," he says. 

Charities benefiting for the event include Sir John Kirwan Foundation, Refugees as Survivors NZ and Voices of Hope who will receive 30 percent of art sales. 

Tickets to the opening night and to the main exhibition can be purchased via his Facebook Page here