'Keeping it real' on social media

Mr G painting.
With over 80,000 followers, renowned visual artist Mr G knows a thing or two about social media. He discusses authenticity, strategy, and why it’s never a bad thing to put yourself out there.

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Ahead of his summer exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery, we asked internationally-renowned portrait artist Mr G (AKA Graham Hoete) to share his views on social media. 

For the past decade, I’ve been sharing my art, my journey, and the real me with over 80,000 combined followers across my social platforms.

My ‘hononga’ or connection with my social media followers has to be authentic. Whether I’m sharing a piece of art or a video of me opening kina, it’s important that it comes from a place of authenticity, because audiences connect best with people that are just being real. 

A lot of people only share the highlight reels of life, but their reality can be the total opposite.

I make being honest and vulnerable a priority – I don’t try to be something I’m not. At the same time, it’s not about blurting out every detail of my life. I think through everything I post. 

There’s a saying that I’ve really tried to live by throughout my career: “You impress people with your abilities but you connect with them through your vulnerabilities.” 

There’s a saying that I’ve really tried to live by throughout my career: 'You impress people with your abilities but you connect with them through your vulnerabilities.'

Of course, it doesn’t always go well. On social media, everyone’s a critic, and a lot of negativity can come from that open forum. But I try to look at that aspect positively, too. There’s another quote I like, which says “the best way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and be nothing.” I receive criticism because I’m putting myself out there, and no matter what response people have to that, even if it is negative, it shows me that I’m making an impact. I would rather be honest and criticised than afraid to say or do anything because of what people might think. 


Mr G’s mural of respected elder Tarere Wai O Rangi McMillan on Matakana Island.

At the end of the day, my goal is to use my art as a vehicle and platform of influence. That’s what social media is really great at. For example, a couple of years ago I created an art treasure hunt in Papamoa – a giveaway for the kids. It was something positive for the community, and just under 200 people turned up. It was off the cuff, no big campaign, just a few posts on social media. That’s why social media has been such an important part of my career. It can take that connection between artist and audience to another level, and really positive things can come out of that. 

In terms of what will and won’t do well on social media, I think I have a pretty good sense of what my following is interested in seeing. A great example is the “Towel-wronger” street sign painting, where the timing was just right. Coinciding with Mahuru Māori month, that sign has already become an iconic piece with my followers. I knew that particular style of art would be accessible - a strong concept with a simple execution.

To practice social media well is an artform in itself. I love it. It doesn’t have to be a chore, but there is strategy involved. I’m working towards my first public art gallery exhibition, ‘HOME’ at Tauranga Art Gallery, and this is a culmination of everything I’ve learned along the way. I’ve had to exercise strategic social planning leading up to this show, there are some pieces that I haven’t shown online at all that will be in ‘HOME’. There needs to be an element of surprise, so I can’t saturate social media with everything I do.

‘HOME’ really is the heart of who I am as a person and an artist. I’m grateful to be in this position, and social media has helped me to get here. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s imperative for all artists to have a big social media presence, but Instagram and Facebook have opened up a world of opportunities for me that I would not have had otherwise. Because of the financial stability and opportunities social media has given me, I’m now able to choose projects that I’m passionate about, things that really represent me, what I stand for and where I come from. My aim for both this show and my use of social media is to tell my story, simply and honestly.

Keep it real.

Mr G: HOME runs from November 9th, 2019 to Feruary 9th 2020 at the Tauranga Art Gallery.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

31 Oct 2019

The Big Idea Editor

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