Interview with Lisa King by Erin Stobie
Lisa King is an artist and illustrator based in Adelaide, South Australia. You might know her best for her large-scale murals — like the bright and bold delight which envelopes the Jive in Adelaide, or her wildly popular tribute to David Bowie that crowns The Maid Hotel in Stepney. Lisa’s catalogue is sprawling but distinctive, and her 80s-inspired style pops with colour. Her portraits are characterful but not cartoonish and have a softness to them which adds to their charm. All of her pieces—be them on an actual canvas or a wall in the shape of one—have an overriding sense of fearlessness to them; that which is driven by Lisa’s determination and devotion to her art.
Lisa’s latest project, Walls of Wonderment, feeds fittingly into that fearlessness and determination. The brief for Walls of Wonderment is simple enough — Lisa is working towards creating a series of large-scale murals in and around Adelaide over the course of 12 to 18 months. The goal is to have the project itself documented by filmmaker Aaron Schuppan, and together the pair will collaborate to make one of Adelaide’s first street art documentaries. The first undertaking of its kind by a female South Australian street artist, Lisa King’s Walls of Wonderment aims to celebrate female street art and to be a socially engaging and innovative contribution to Adelaide’s public art initiative. As with any ambitious endeavour, funding is the key to making Lisa’s dreams a reality. So she’s launched a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to help bring the project to life. I had a chat with Lisa recently about the project and her Pozible campaign, so read on to find out how you can get involved and help her to make Walls of Wonderment a reality.
What is ‘Walls of Wonderment’, and what should people know about it?
LISA KING: Quite simply, it is a series of large-scale murals which will be painted over approximately 12 months in Adelaide, South Australia. It is me celebrating female street art and creativity worldwide, with hard work that will result in me painting and exhibiting colourful, socially engaging, and aesthetically innovative public art across Adelaide's CBD and surrounding suburbs. It will be adding to the vitality of South Australian arts, culture, and tourism and will be kicking off around October / Nov 2016. With the walls ranging from approximately 10 meters to 30 meters in size, this project will be the first of its kind in Adelaide by a female artist and maybe even close to being the first of this scale to be independently managed and fund-raised by a female street artist in Australia. I will not only be a contributing to the Australian street art scene in general but to a larger and steadily growing movement that is blossoming across the Nation as we speak.
What inspired this new series?
My complete desire and lust to paint large-scale, and to express the concepts that I have been working on in my studio for the last 12 months. I really manifested the idea in my head when I was painting my largest wall in Queensland in May for the First Coat Street Art Festival. I just knew I had to do it, I just knew at that point that this is what I have to do. So I spent 4 months, full-time, building it bit by bit. Now I am here and I am just working towards the funding.
Where and on what can people expect to see pieces from ‘Walls of Wonderment’ popping up?
Well, I have been working heavily on my technique behind the scenes so I am hoping people will be excited by how much better I may have gotten. Also, I am diverting a little from straight portrait murals to something a little more illustrative. Bigger walls mean more detail right?! That's what I am really aiming for, anyway. I guess a bit more of a narrative and story rather than a single persona. I am also painting some illustrative elements that are from other artists that have inspired me in my past. For instance, I am painting a wall specifically inspired by Nick Knights Photography…. and don’t worry — yes, I have his permission. I am very careful with copyright, as we all should be.
Can you talk us through your process when putting together a mural? What’s the first step forward on a new project, and how do you know when it’s finished?
I feel like as a new (specifically, large-scale mural) artist, I still have a lot of trouble walking away from a wall when it is good enough. Every piece could always have a little more. I think it's an artist's curse, though. Unfortunately, with murals, you do not have endless time as a luxury. It is kind of an art in itself to get in, be precise, and get out. In terms of process, I really just attack it like a studio piece. I start with an ideology, then head into some loose sketches, refine a concept and mood board and then sit on my hands and wait until the day comes where I can get out and paint. I think everyone's process differs tremendously out there, pre-production and on wall.
What makes a wall the right kind of canvas for a mural?
For me, it's size and surface. I need preferably large scale and flat surface if possible (of course, this is not always the case). I have learned to say no if the job does not feel right from the get-go, and more times than not if I go against that instinct it usually bites me in the bum and leaves me with three things: stress, mistakes and time. It’s not worth it, in my eyes. I like to be super prepared and always know what I am going into. Is it the face itself, or the personality behind the face, that makes for the best subject? I like to think that I seek out faces that appeal to me in perhaps whatever mood I am in at the time, but also, more importantly, I feel I paint my subjects in a subconscious style that leaves them all with a little bit of sombre emotion, or perhaps an angelic sense or melancholy, in nature.
You work with quite a distinctive palette. How did you settle on your signature style, and how has it evolved from the beginning to now?
I am very humbled that you say I have a signature style because I feel I struggle with that a lot, although people tell me I do (must be another artist curse, hehe). I guess my work has evolved without my knowledge, really. I just paint and work and it just is what it has become. I did look back on some old stuff the other day though and recognised some evolution in process… it's refreshing to see a glimpse of that. I only hope to create an even more signature style as I grow. I think my colours actually create a connection if anything.
Tell us about how the collaboration with Aaron Schuppan came about.
Basically, I needed a film guy to make the documentary about the whole project and Aaron had just finished making my partner's new video clip and I loved it so much I thought he would be perfect. Actually that is not 100% totally true. I decided recently that I really only want to work and collaborate with people that are running on the same amount of energy as me, and hold the same amount of passion and drive towards their practice as I do; Aaron is that guy. He is a dude, a nice guy, a funny guy and a damn hard-working talented man. I feel like when he said 'YES' I really scored. I cannot think of any other person that would feed off the energy of what I am trying to build with this project, other than him.
You live and work in Adelaide, so quite often you live alongside the work you create. Does that ever play into your process?
The idea of having to live with a work as the artist and a viewer? Never. I love this aspect of my work. I love building in my hometown. I love the people, I get great support and I love that I am leaving something here.
When you’re working on a mural, how does the space around the work affect the piece itself? Do you think about your murals in the context of the place they live, or do the works stand alone amongst the noise?
I definitely think of my murals as site specific and this comes into account every time I create a concept. Shapes, colour, and environment all play a part in getting a visual that is as aesthetically innovative as possible. You’re using crowd funding to help support this latest venture. Why? Large-scale mural work is super-duper expensive. The hire of access machinery, materials and more all adds up… I looked at some large artists grants, but knowing they would not be enough to cover the whole project and how competitive and time sensitive they are (not to mention how consuming they get), I thought the fund-raising / crowd funding element would be a great opportunity for me to really push myself at the same time as giving me some better odds for the long hours.
How important is it for you, as an artist, to have the option to utilise crowd-funding initiatives? Or even to interact on line using platforms like Instagram and Facebook and Twitter?
I think crowd-funding is a great opportunity for artists to utilise. In saying this, though, it is a lot of work (more than I had initially fathomed). I think it's a great platform and supportive initiative that with hard work, could be the magic ticket. I am hoping.
’Walls of Wonderment’ is due to be a part of the 2017 Fringe exhibitions. You’ll also be giving an artist talk about the project at around the same time. How are you finding the deadline on this project? Is it any more or less intimidating than one set for a more traditional showing?
This project is pretty intimidating in regards to time, but once the work/walls are done (well, the first 3-4 by the time the Fringe comes around) the rest will sort itself out. The artist talk is something that will be pretty relaxed. It's just an added extra for people to hear after they have visited the walls, to give them a greater understanding of my process, intentions, and outcomes. The concepts are pretty much ready to go so it's all just about getting out there.
In the brief, you mention that ‘Walls of Wonderment’ is the first project of its kind by a female street artist in South Australia. How significant is that for you? And how does your womanhood define your artistic identity?
This is a very important aspect for me as I really hope to add to the strong female creative scene in Adelaide. I am not so much fussed about being the first female to complete a project like this, per-say. It's really so I can inspire others to get out there and live their dreams no matter how hard or high. My womanhood defines every part of my work, especially my emotional response to subject matters. I am fairly sure the visual side oozes my feminine approach, too. It is a pretty male-orientated scene… I like to think I am adding something of my own to the mix.
When can we look forward to seeing ‘Walls of Wonderment’ get underway, and what can we do to help?
I am fairly sure I will be getting in the lift either in late October or early November to start my first wall. It's 6 stories high. I need, need, need for you and everyone you know, and every person that can afford it, to buy some artwork from my Pozible campaign page. In a nutshell, I am selling my work—work that took a long time to create—and instead of pocketing the proceeds (which is completely worthy of doing) and jetting off on a holiday to America or buying a new wardrobe, I am putting every single dollar into this project. It seriously is my dream to get this project off the ground and I would appreciate any and all support. There are also great rewards for philanthropic donors and opportunities for shoutouts and corporate sponsors in the video and on merch. There's something for everyone.
As of the time of writing, Lisa has raised just over $5000 towards her target. She’s still a way off, so if you can, do head on over and offer your support. There are gorgeous limited prints and print sets on offer, as well as opportunities for original works and philanthropic partnerships. Spread the word!
You can find Lisa King’s Pozible page here...