York street artist Harriet Wood has been making beautiful wall art around the world. She spoke to STEPHEN LEWIS

IN March this year, street artist Harriet Wood was shade-hopping along the street in the Arizona desert town of Ajo, 43 miles from the Mexican border. It was just after 5pm, she'd just woken up from her siesta, and the sun was still baking down from a searingly hot sky.

The 25-year-old was on her way to 'the wall' - the side of an abandoned warehouse that she and a team of other street artists were vividly spray-painting as part of a community art project.

She was stopped by the voice of another girl on the team calling to her. They chatted for a while, then were interrupted by a hoarse voice.

Harriet related what happened next in a blog post...

"Excuse me, where can I find water?"

The guy was anything between 25 and 35 years old, it was hard to tell through his weariness. My friend suggested asking inside the nearest building to use the tap, but he declined.

"No. I need to take water for my brother too. He's so thirsty."

My friend suggested some other options for water. He looked exhausted, hot and anxious - paranoid in fact. He told me he was from Mexico, and it all fell into place...

The man was an illegal immigrant who had hiked with his brother for scores of miles across arid desert in the hopes of making a better life for himself in the States. He'd taken enormous risks, Harriet says.

"The desert is hostile, the wildlife deadly, the heat remorseless and the mountain ranges almost impenetrable," she wrote in her blog. "Yet so many make the journey."

York Press:

Harriet Wood with her wall painting in Ajo, California

And so many die in the attempt. "The surrounding lands are a memorial to those who tried and succumbed," Harriet wrote.

She was touched by the attitude of many locals, who left water out in the desert, where desperate immigrants could find it. Most people in Ajo wanted to save lives, she says.

But there were others who did the opposite. "People were telling me that Trump supporters had been shooting holes in the water barrels," she says.

Harriet - who works under the street name 'Miss Hazard' - is one of the UK's top women graffiti artists. She was included by the Guardian in 2014

in its list of the best in the UK - and the Huffington Post has also named her as one of the top 20 in the world.

Her work has appeared on walls across the globe: in the States, in Mexico, in Gdansk, Nice, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona.

York Press:

Harriet's wall art in Amsterdam

She's painted stages for Glastonbury, led guided graffiti tours of Bristol, and written blogs for an all-woman international architectural practice. Oh, and her work has appeared in York, too - on the wall of the Evil Eye lounge, at St Aelred's School, at The Nook in Castlegate.

There's a good reason for that. This 25-year-old with huge street cred is a York lass...

Her dad Chris Wood runs local TV, film and video production company W3KTS. The company's name stands for 'wife and three kids to support'. So which of the '3KTS' is Harriet? "I'm the eldest!" she says, on a rare visit to her home city (she now lives in Barcelona). "By one minute!" They're triplets, you see...

York Press:

Harriet with her wall art at St Aelred's in York

She's always loved drawing and painting. She went to Bootham School, where she used up all the canvases. One of her teachers crossly told her to 'go and paint a wall instead'. So she did - buying herself some spray paint and finding a likely wall at the back of the school. It didn't go down well: she was told in no uncertain terms that what she had done was 'not OK'.

But having discovered the joys of street art, she wasn't about to go back.

Using spray cans can be frustrating, she says. "It doesn't always do what you expect it to! But once I had started I kept going, wanting to get better. and I'm still going 11 years later."

Her work is swirling and brightly-coloured, almost tribal. Often it features women with striking aboriginal or Asiatic features - she's always been in awe of the Mayas and Ancient Egypt, and you can see that in her work.

York Press:

Wall art in Bristol

She's now a professional street artist, getting most of her commissions (such as a recent street festival in Bridlington) through word of mouth or recommendations.

The Ajo project was a bit different, however. She heard about it while she was in Tucson, Arizona, then launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money so she could take part.

Ajo is a former Arizona copper-mining town which is now almost a ghost town since its copper mine closed. She was there for several weeks on and off, and her wall art was inspired by the colours and shapes of the desert all around the town: the prickly green of cacti, vivid reds that represent the arid heat of the desert; and a striking woman's face in profile.

She made a rough sketch first, copied it onto acetate, then mounted a projector on the back of an old jeep, projected the image onto the warehouse wall, then traced the outline out at night.

York Press:

The wall painting in Ajo

The rest of the painting was filled in in the daytime - although the searing heat affected the hours she could work. "I'd get up at 5am, work until 11am, take a siesta, then come back at about 6pm and work until late."

But she learned a lot, she says. She learned that cacti have skeletons, that deserts can be harsh but mind-blowingly beautiful - and that even in Trump's America, some local people are willing to try to help those who risk their lives crossing the desert in search of a new life...