Yonel Watene was born 1989 in Auckland, New Zealand, of Māori (Ngati Maru (Hauraki)) and Greek descent. He started seriously painting at the age of 16 at Takapuna Grammar School, where he won the Prentice Award in 2005.
Watene went on to win the Iti Wai Wai Young Emerging Maori Artist of the Year Award in 2006 while studying Fine Arts and Economics at Auckland University of Technology.
A multi-disciplinary artist, Watene works across a range of mediums including painting, photography, sculpture and installation. He recently added art writing to his practice.
Known primarily for his painting, Watene’s early works spoke to primitivism and tribal art. His latest paintings have departed from a thematic approach, to focus more on context, narration and experimentation.
Watene is currently based in Hamilton but has lived and worked in Auckland, Whangerei, Sydney, and Melbourne. He recently undertook an artist-in-residency program at Casa Lu, Mexico City, Mexico.
Watene plans to temporarily retire from painting representational subject matter to focus on his abbreviated paintings (such as FTKP, FFFFFFFF and CCTV) and a new experimental series that will be released in his upcoming exhibition Watene Ah Um, at Firstdraft arts precinct in Sydney, Australia in August.