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Meet Lakwena Maciver, the inspiring London artist painting the city with technicolour love

The east London-based artist has been lighting up the capital with art that evokes joy and positivity

Known for her large-scale, colour-soaked murals portraying uplifting messages of hope, it’s likely you’ve seen Lakwena Maciver’s work whilst strolling around the city, whether it’s her multi-coloured flags in Covent Garden, enormous rainbow murals splashed across the walls in Shoreditch or her kaleidoscopic stripes on the roof of Temple station. Now, a series of new projects and big-name collaborations is putting her on the map like never before.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Photo by Andy Rain

The East London-based, British-Ugandan artist has worked with everyone from Nike to Fiorucci and most recently collaborated with the charity Choose Love on an installation at their new pop-up store in Carnaby Street, where you can buy Christmas presents for those most affected by the refugee crisis. Her socially conscious pieces speak to people about the burning desires that most resonate with us on a human level, and provide a welcome dose of heavily saturated colour and hope during times of uncertainty. Here she reveals the process behind her poignantly positive artworks, as well as sharing some of her favourite spots in the capital for inspiration and reflection.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Lakwena, Queen Of The Air, Tate commission. Photograph by Kevin Lake

Growing up, I never wanted to be an artist…

I’ve always loved drawing, but I said I didn’t want to be an artist as I knew you didn’t really earn much money – I was always very aware of that, very practical, even from a young age. But then as a teenager I went to Brazil to stay with some friends for a bit and I ended up painting a mural, and suddenly it clicked that this is what I do when I’m left to my own devices. So I came back and decided to study graphic design [at London College of Communications], because I realised that could end in a job.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Lakwena, This Will Be A Safe Space

For me, art is a way of telling my story…

The course that I studied was very conceptual and the emphasis was on communication – wanting to speak has always been important for me, so I began with trying to tell my story and my experience of growing up as a mixed-race girl in Bromley in the 90s. Expressing that through painting seemed like a natural thing for me. Once I graduated, I was offered an opportunity to create a mural in Miami, where I painted a huge wall with the words ‘I Remember Paradise’, which is a theme that runs through all of my work now. Lots of people saw the installation and that took my work to a whole new level – it had a really big impact and it all took off from there.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity

My use of colour is a form of escapism…

When I was six, I went to Ethiopia for two years and that was like this glimpse of paradise – it was just such a beautiful place and I blended in there. Then I came back here and it was cold and grey and I was very much a minority. The use of colour is a conscious reaction against the grey – I felt very disconnected from my heritage and that part of my life, and so I started to create work as a way of processing that and figuring out who I was, or who I wanted to be, and telling that to the world.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Lakwena, Count It All Joy, Row Commission, Los Angeles

Most of my artworks started off as me trying to speak hope to myself…

My work very much comes out of everyday life – what I’m experiencing at the time, what I’m scared of or frustrated by, what I’m hoping for. I’m also inspired by whatever I’m reading and the music I’m listening to; I use a lot of lyrics in my works, as songs are such a powerful part of our cultural psyche. They say something about what we’re yearning for as humans and there’s a universality to them that I really connect with. Whether or not I feel it, I paint these things because I believe them to be true, I believe there is hope. A lot of it is trying to hold onto that and meditate on the words

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Lakwena, Lift You Higher, UN Womens Comission, Sequins And Cotton On Fabric, 125 x 92cm. Photography: Will Amlott

My most recent project is the one I’m most excited about at the moment…

It’s an installation I’ve done on the top of Temple station, which is called ‘Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground’ and it’s running until the end of April. It’s in an area that I used to go a lot when I was younger – getting a train to Charing Cross and hanging out on the Strand – but I never knew that rooftop was there. It just feels like such an iconic spot, being in the heart of the city and overlooking the Thames. And the fact that it’s in my home city makes it particularly special.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Artist Lakwena Maciver unveils her expansive, immersive floorscape Back in the Air: A Meditation on Higher Ground, commissioned by theCoLAB Temple in partnership with Westminster City Council and 180 Studios at The Artist’s Garden. Photograph: David Parry/PA Wire

Collaborations are a really fun part of my work…

I’ve recently worked with Choose Love on an installation and some merchandise for their pop-up store on Carnaby Street, which is such an important charity raising funds to help refugees in crisis. I’ve also just done a collaboration with the fashion label Fiorucci, which was a lot of fun. Their roots are in the disco scene, so I had this idea to explore the crossover between disco and gospel, as gospel music is a big source of inspiration to me. We shot this great film with a gospel choir, led by my sister, and everyone got involved, my sons and husband too. It’s not just about the clothes, I’ve been able to tell a whole story, and it just felt very authentic.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Fiorucci x Lakwena. Photography: Ruth Ossai

I get a lot of inspiration from living in London…

I love going to the Tate Modern, because it’s so grand and it feels very aspirational to me. Closer to home I really enjoy visiting the Whitechapel Gallery, because they always have incredible exhibitions there. And whenever I can I’ll make a trip to Bold Tendencies in Peckham, which is a collective of creatives that supports emerging artist and curates shows from a multistorey carpark. I always find their exhibitions hugely inspiring.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Photography: Mafalda da Silva

I like to dress colourfully and let my outfit take over…

It’s a real mix where I get my clothes from – some pieces I get on Depop, others from Portobello market. But there are a few London-based designers that I really admire, like Martine Rose – her pieces are just so cool and all inspired by London culture. I also love AGR Knit, who’s a really interesting designer – I wear her multicoloured trousers all the time. And the Daily Paper store in Soho is one of my favourites – it’s founded by three African friends who were born and bred in Europe, and I just love that mix of cultures. They’re repping African culture but from a diasporic reference point.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Lakwena, Lift You Higher, UN Womens Comission, Sequins And Cotton On Fabric, 125 x 92cm. Photography: Will Amlott

My dream collaboration would be with Burberry…

In terms of fashion, they’re such an incredible British brand with so much heritage and history, it would be amazing to do something really fun and fresh with them.

The east London-based artist Lakwena Maciver has been lighting up the city with her technicolour art that evokes happiness and positivity
Photography: John Ogunmuyiwa

Next up I’m focusing on my new solo show…

I’m currently working on my upcoming exhibition at Vigo Gallery, which will either be at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. It’s going to revolve around a series of basketball paintings I’ve been making over the last few years. I love how basketball has this universal quality to it and feels relevant to a lot of people, but there are also a lot of different things you can extrapolate from it. There are themes around aspiration, of people coming together, and it’s dominated by black men, which I think is a really beautiful thing. I’ve loved being able to play with that in these paintings, and celebrate these incredible players. It’s a wonderful example of an expression of black male joy, which I think is really important. 

lakwena.com

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