Auckland street artist 'traumatised' after police mistake him for graffiti vandal and arrest him

An Auckland street artist says he was "traumatised" after being arrested for just doing his job.

Jesse Jensen, better known as Ares Artifex, is a street artist that brings Auckland streets to life and has worked on various projects for organisations and individuals around the city.

He was commissioned to paint a mural on a fence on Auckland's North Shore, but was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car when he was questioned and then unable to make contact with his client.

He was working on a mural of 'Mars cones' on a street in Takapuna on Tuesday afternoon when he was approached by police.

Artwork: Mars cones.
Artwork: Mars cones. Photo credit: Supplied

He captured the moment two police officers arrived at about 1pm after being called by a concerned citizen.

"Do you enquire about everyone else's day-to-day business while they're going about their life, or just street artists?" Jensen can be heard asking them in the video.

The police officers proceeded to ask him what he was doing and whether he could provide the homeowner's details.

"If someone else was building a balcony for someone or delivery some groceries or anything would you approach that person and ask them to provide you with the homeowner's detail?" he responded.

Jensen, who paints with acrylic paint but uses a spray can to mark the outline, said the police saw the can and assumed he was engaged in illegal graffiti.

Police confirmed that they took a person of interest into custody after they were called to the Lake Rd address in relation to "a person acting suspiciously". 

The officers let Jensen go not long after.

Ares Artifex.
Ares Artifex. Photo credit: Supplied

Jensen said he was earlier approached by an older man who had harassed him and told they "have enough graffiti around here".

"To him graffiti means illegal. He can't compute that I could possibly have permission to be doing what I'm doing," Jensen said.

Jensen says graffiti artists get a bad rap a lot of the time, but the situation is particularly worse in Auckland.

"A negative thing is happening to graffiti and street artists all over the world, but in Auckland, I think we are on the bad end of the scale."

He says Auckland City Council receive a lot of funding for graffiti removal.

In December last year, a children's activity board Jensen was commissioned to do for Community Waitākere in West Auckland was water blasted by the council a week after.

He says the art removal is preventing artists from painting and thinks there should be places people can paint legally all over in Auckland, like "art parks".

"People are incentivised to paint really good stuff... but in Auckland, it gets removed."

In an ironic turn of events, Jensen was contacted by the Ministry of Justice on Thursday to do the exact same mural design he got arrested for on their property in Henderson.