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Meet Camille Walala, the artist bringing colour and joy to the streets of London

With an aim to make art both accessible and a medium for spreading happiness, French artist Camille Walala is transforming the capital with her bold designs

Best known for her joyful murals and colourful installations, Camille Walala has become a recognisable force on the capital’s street art scene. If you’ve spent any time in White City recently, for example, you won’t have missed Les Jumeaux – Walala’s pedestrian crossings and murals outside of the tube station there. A perfect example of her work, each one displays her trademark bright geometric patterns.

Now, after completing her latest project, Walala Parade in Leyton, she’s set to take part in the inaugural London Mural Festival. Here she explains how she works to inspire happiness, the story behind her signature bold style and exactly why she fell in love with London.

Camille Walala in the studio  with White Noise rug for Floor Story 03

My name isn’t actually Camille Walala…

My surname is really Vic-Dupont. Walala was invented by my boyfriend of the time back when Hotmail had just started. He set up an email address for me as a joke, because he said the first time he saw me he thought ‘wa-la-la!’. The name just stuck. 

My style is joyful, colourful, playful and bold…

I like to experiment with perspective and scale in my patterns. That boldness translates really well into street art installations – it has a strong visual impact when it’s on a bigger scale like a building. Those patterns don’t have to be complicated, but the bolder the better.

My love of colour came from my mother…

I grew up in the South of France, where my mother would fill the house with vibrant colourful fabrics and paint lots of the walls in bright, bold shades. The aesthetics taught me not to shy away from the use of colour from an early age.

Dream Come True mural in East London by Camille Walala
Dream Come True mural in Shoreditch, East London by Camille Walala. Photography by J. Lewis

It took me a long time to work out what I wanted to do career wise…

I liked textiles, but I was beginning to feel a bit bored. I thought there must be something more than this, and when I started to create artwork on a bigger scale, I got really excited, so I knew I was finally doing what I was meant to be doing.

I actually studied textile design at university – street art came later…

Another boyfriend I had after finishing university was really into it, and I loved the powerful art you could see in the streets. But it was all quite masculine, so I was excited to try doing something more feminine. I started off by putting positive messages in the street, surrounded by colourful patterns. I loved how people would laugh as they passed my messages. From there, I began doing larger scale pieces, until eventually I painted my first building back in 2015.

Your style develops naturally when you work…

I’ve been practicing now for 20 years, but it takes me time to create things I like. I’m a harsh self-critic, so I’ll often do work that I’m not happy with. In the beginning, it took me a long time to show my work to people and be proud of it. Now I just experiment, and try to find a good composition using the right balance of colour and thickness of lines. People don’t realise you create a lot of rubbish work before you create anything good.

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Les Jumeaux in White City, West London by Camille Walala. Photography: Charles Emerson

It’s important to promote joy right now… 

It’s frustrating and hard to witness all the negative things happening in the world recently. I think the best thing to do is focus on what you’re good at and share it with people. Street art is accessible, and can elicit joy in a quick, emotional way from those who view it. Knowing my work can have a positive impact and put a smile on people’s faces is a feeling I like. 

My favourite piece of street art is still my first…

Back in 2015, a woman messaged me asking if I wanted to paint her husband’s office building in Old Street, Shoreditch, after I’d been putting requests on social media. I covered it in bright pattern and called it the ‘Dream Come True Building’ because it not only was an amazing opportunity which raised my profile, but it also showed me I was headed on the right path.

I first came to London in 1997…

I was quite eccentric when I was younger, but I grew up a small village with just 300 narrow-minded people – it’s hard to be eccentric in a place like that. Plus I was a bit chubby, so it was hard to be confident. So in my 20s, my father sent me to London to learn English. To begin with, I was petrified and hated him for it. But within three months, I realised this was the place I wanted to be. There was so much creativity and boldness in terms of style, fashion and art, and it was so multi-cultured and open-minded. I felt like I was home.

Walala Parade in Leyton, East London by Camille Walala. Commissioned by Wood Street Walls. Photography: Tim Crocker

My most recent project was so inspiring to work on… 

A group of people from Leyton contacted me because they wanted to make Leyton High Road look better. The first half had been painted during the Olympics, but it was starting to look quite dull, so I wanted to do something big and bold. Walala Parade was a real community project designed to make people proud of where they live – after all, not everyone can afford to live in Hackney. I’m based in East London too, near Broadway Market, so it was nice to make a positive change locally.

Next, I’m taking part in the inaugural London Mural Festival…

I’m undertaking two projects in East London for it – one against the facade at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, the other on Adams Plaza Bridge in Canary Wharf. For the first, I have made a massive collage of these kinds of fake, imaginary buildings in striking shapes. The bridge is more structural, so I took inspiration directly from its tunnel-like architecture. By wrapping in geometric shapes and bright colours, I want to change how it feels to go through this space.

Street art has traditionally been a male-dominated medium… 

That’s now changing as more and more women get involved. I’ve done festivals before where it was actually quite intimidating because it was mostly men and had a really strong masculine energy. It was a hard place to start – they didn’t take me seriously at first and offered to ‘show me how to paint’. So it’s nice to see more women out there now, like Maya Hayuk, who is very good.

Camille Walala Walala Lounge On South Molton Street Photo credit Charles Emerson HighRes 013

My local Italian, Ombra, is one of my favourite restaurants… 

It has a really nice terrace where we used to go after work all the time as it’s a lovely sunny spot on the canal near Victoria Park in Hackney. I also love E5 Bakehouse in London Fields – I’m an early bird so I like to go down at 7am when they’ve just opened. They do the best buttery, flakey croissants, which are even better than in France. I also like how there are always lots of people there with their dogs – it’s a sweet community routine.

My future plans aren’t yet fixed…

I’d like my next project to be a collaboration with an architect as I’d love to be involved at the starting point of a building. But I also want to work with children more, and hold a workshop which focuses on confidence. I’d also like to do something which would be helpful for the Black Lives Matter movement, too.

If you want to tap into your own creativity, collage is a good place to start…

It’s a great medium for letting you experiment. Often if you start drawing and it’s not very good, you just stop. But collage lets you switch it up by adding different shapes and colours. You can be playful with your creations; you don’t need as much confidence to succeed.

camillewalala.com

Mural by Camille Walala for WantedDesign during NYCxDESIGN festival
Above: Mural by Camille Walala for WantedDesign during NYCxDESIGN festival. Images courtesy Industry City
Main image: Camille Walala. Photography by Charles Emerson. Image courtesy of Zetteler.
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