Economics grad turned-artist brings colour to the streets of Auckland, New Zealand

By Costa Maragos Posted: March 23, 2018 6:00 a.m.

Emily Gardner, who graduated with a degree in Economics, is making a name for herself as a street artist in Auckland, New Zealand.
Emily Gardner, who graduated with a degree in Economics, is making a name for herself as a street artist in Auckland, New Zealand. Photos courtesy of Adore

When Emily Gardner graduated at the top of her class in Economics in 2013, the thought of making a living as an artist might have seemed a world away.

Now, nearly five years later, Gardner is a commissioned street artist creating bright and beautiful murals in Auckland, New Zealand.
“I kind of discovered painting when I was feeling pressure and uncertainty in other areas of my life,” says Gardner. “I was struggling to find the kind of job that I wanted - and in the middle of a difficult relationship - being able to go paint a wall to offload stress was a significant form of therapy for me.”

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Emily Gardner was drawn to art. Her primary medium is aerosol.

Auckland is a long way from Regina’s North Central neighbourhood, where Gardner grew up.

She graduated from Sheldon-Williams Collegiate before enrolling in the U of R.

Gardner, 30, sought an education as her way of escaping poverty and creating a more stable life at home.
“When I was attending Sheldon I was living at Gemma House – this is the Salvation Army girls’ group home – while I was in grade nine. Then it was back to North Central but closer to Mount Royal,” says Gardner.

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Adidas commissioned Gardner for its adicolour campaign.

Her grandmother ended up raising Emily.

“My grandmother became my legal guardian after it became clear that attempts to reconcile my mother and I were not going to work out,” says Gardner. “My grandmother was a very loving and strong woman who did her very best, survived severe domestic abuse, and raised four children. She was my hero.”

Gardner entered the U of R in 2007. She was active with her economics classmates, becoming President of the Economics Students’ Association.

She was a research assistant on campus and a teaching assistant, providing tutorial support to other students.

She excelled in class and graduated with Distinction, earning the Jack Boan Medal in Economics and the Dr. Alex Kelly Undergraduate Essay Economics Prize. After finishing her studies, she decided to make the move to New Zealand.

“I'm a dual citizen. My father is a New Zealander. He moved back when I was very young and wasn't really part of my life but I was legally entitled to apply for citizenship by descent and so I did,” she says.

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A Tiger painted for a local restaurant in Auckland.

Gardner earned a Master of Professional Studies in International Relations and Human Rights and worked as a settlement officer in a large bank.

But Gardner was drawn to art. Her primary medium is aerosol.

“I started by doing work just for myself, but received my first commission from Tiger Beer when one of their sales reps saw a piece I did and referred me to their marketing team,” says Gardner. “Since then I've received a steady stream of commissions that have allowed me to paint full time, though this year I hope to transition from commissions into creating and selling my own work.”

Gardner, who paints under the tag name Adore, was recently commissioned by Adidas to produce a mural for the company’s global adicolour campaign. This brilliant painting features fluros and UV paint.  

“It’s designed to be clean and tidy during the day and then luminescent at night,” she says.

Gardner has found stability in her new life, but her thoughts turn back to Regina and her dear grandmother, Joyce Gardner, who passed away in 2015.  A portrait of her grandmother is featured on an Auckland street.

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This portrait is in honour of Gardner’s grandmother Joyce
who passed away in Regina in 2015.

For now, Gardner plans on making a life in New Zealand. Given her journey, we asked what advice she has for students at the University of Regina.
“There is no clear and proven path to success. Don't try to achieve what other people believe you should, focus on your strengths and what inspires you and live for that,” says Gardner. “While it may not be a totally direct relationship, my time at the U of R gave me the skills to manage my own business and balance multiple projects at once.”