As It Happens

New Zealand man faces legal action for painting penises around potholes

Geoff Upson has been drawing very large, colourful penises around potholes in his home city of Auckland since 2018 to draw attention to a problem that he says authorities are not taking seriously.

Geoff Upson was tired of authorities ignoring the potholes, so he got out a spray can

A bright green penis is spray-painted around the bumpy remnants of a pothole in Auckland, New Zealand, courtesy of road safety campaigner Geoff Upson. (Geoff Upson Road Safety Campaigner/Facebook)

A New Zealand man's penile art could have him facing penal action. 

Geoff Upson has been drawing very large, colourful penises around potholes in his home city of Auckland since 2018 to draw attention to a problem he says authorities are not taking seriously.

Now, Auckland Transport has taken legal action against the road safety campaigner, following a complaint over his artwork. Upson says he has given a formal statement to the police, and faces a fine or possible community service. 

"I'm remaining optimistic that Auckland Transport will just fix the road and they will accept that the only reason I've drawn on the road is because the road was unsafe to start with," Upson told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Auckland Transport confirmed that formal graffiti charges were laid against Upson on Friday, and said the case is now in the hands of police. 

"As we head into road safety week next week, Auckland Transport is actually looking forward to working positively with Mr. Upson," Auckland Transport spokesperson Natalie Polley said in an emailed statement on Monday.

"Although we may not agree with the way he drew attention to the potholes, Auckland Transport and Mr. Upson have the same ultimate goal — road safety awareness. We are having positive discussions with him at the moment on his concerns."

Upson, pictured here with his dog, has been drawing penises around potholes in protest. (Geoff Upson Road Safety Campaigner/Facebook)

Upson said his decision to spray-paint penises around potholes was an act of desperation after he grew frustrated that authorities were not taking the pothole issue seriously enough. 

"I've tried other ways, you know. I've tried getting in touch with the local councillors, you know, the people that we voted in. And I've tried contacting Auckland Transport directly," he said. "And quite often I feel like they just simply ignore me." 

He says he was inspired by a similar campaign by the U.K. street artist who goes by the name Wansky. In 2015, the anonymous artist began spray-painting giant penis shapes around the potholes in Greater Manchester. 

That campaign seemed to work, so Upson thought he would give it a try in Auckland. 

I'm remaining optimistic that Auckland Transport will just fix the road and they will accept that the only reason I've drawn on the road is because the road was unsafe to start with.- Geoff Upson

When asked how big his penises are, Upson insists it really just depends on the size of the pothole. 

"I'm always very, very careful to keep my drawings within the area of the road which needs to be replaced," Upson said, 

The potholes in the city are "quite big" Upson says. He describes how two potholes side by side on one road stretched 48 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. 

Upson steps in a small pothole, circled with bright green spray paint. He estimates he's drawn around a 100 potholes — although not all of his drawings are of penises. (Geoff Upson Road Safety Campaigner/Facebook)

He once watched a bus drive over the potholes, and the children were "bouncing off their seats" and the driver had an "absolute petrified look on her face," he said. 

He hopes his drawings will get holes filled, while also alerting drivers to the danger. 

Upson says the worst is at night, when it is difficult to see the potholes. He will often see drivers changing their tires on the side of the road. 

"That's half the reason I do it is because it's saving ... drivers' wheels and their tires from damage," he said. 

Upson estimates he's covered around 100 potholes. Most, but not all, are penises. 


Written by Sarah Jackson. Interview produced by Kate Cornick. 

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