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Taking a synaesthetic stroll along colourful street with Lois O’Hara and Pantone

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Last week, multidisciplinary artist, designer and illustrator Lois O’Hara unveiled ‘Colourful Street’, a new interactive public artwork that aims to inject positivity and joy at this time of uncertainty. It presents an abstraction of King’s Road, in her signature style, using a  colour palette based on photographs of King's Road and the local area. The fluid patterns, meanwhile, chart the shape and movement of the iconic West London street. 

Building on her work to date, which explores the positive impact colour can have on people and places, Lois has worked closely with Pantone and The Pantone Color Institute to understand the impact of the chosen colours on our mood and surroundings. Visitors will be able to delve deeper into the colour theory by using QR codes located on the artwork and along the pavement to explore the effect of each of the colours used. 

The project also pays homage to one of the world’s earliest students of colour – Jacob Christoph Le Blon who published a ground-breaking study, ‘Coloritto’ in London in 1723 and who lived on the Sloane Stanley Estate, then known as Chelsea Park, behind King’s Road, Chelsea. 

In recent years Lois has gained recognition for her signature aesthetic which uses fluid shapes and bold colours to transform basketball courts, city buses, street crossings and store windows into giant-scale works of art. She has a number of notable collaborations under her belt including with Jack Arts, Habitat, Urban Outfitters, Kiehl's, Estrella, Lucy & Yak and Boardies Apparel amongst others.

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 We caught up with Lois this week to discuss her creative process, the underlying message of her work and her hopes for the future.

Can you explain your creative process to us with this project and in general?

When I start working on a project, I begin with the colour palette and create something that is unique to that specific space or brand. Then I start to work on the composition but very loosely. It’s important that my lines and colours flow and entwine naturally.  

I don’t like to use straight lines! In life there are many twists and turns and I think my fluid work shows the beauty in that. It also captures the fluidity of images in motion to encourage people to move, either physically or imaginatively.

I knew King’s Road was known for being quirky and charming so thought it would be the perfect place for a colourful mural. I was initially inspired by the size of the wall that they proposed to me. I have always felt the bigger, the better as colour has such a powerful affect on people and this location gave me the opportunity to fill in larger areas of block colour. 

The mural itself captures the movement of the people who walk up and down the street and the colours have been picked from photographs of the street taken over time.

How did you get into the industry and where are you based now?

I’m based in Brighton and have gradually worked my way up in the industry. I started screenprinting and then learnt I wanted to work on a larger scale so that other people could feel the positive impact colour has on your mindset and mood.

There were surely many locations to choose from on King's Road, so why did you choose Chelsea Fire Station as the final location?

The wall next to Chelsea Fire Station had been derelict for many years, and a spot where the homeless slept but it was local businessperson Sarah Farrugia’s initiative to turn the space into a large-scale canvas for artists. As a result of this change, the area has had new life breathed into it and is now safer. It’s an honour to have my artwork showcased in such a large, unique space. 

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Can you tell us about Jacob Christoph Le Blon and the impact he had on the project?

Jacob Christoph Le Blon was the inventor of CMYK and lived on the Sloane Stanley Estate, then known as Chelsea Park, behind King’s Road, Chelsea. He was one of the world’s earliest students of colour and given that I have been exploring the impact colour has on people, this mural pays homage to him and his work.

What is it about the concept of transforming urban environments that inspires you?

My biggest passion is transforming grey spaces as I feel colour has immense power. Colour can lift moods and encourage physical activity whilst also making spaces safer and more accessible and engaging for all. I love finding a solution to all of the challenges that come with renovating a space. It’s my way of giving back to society. 

Your work aims to explore the positive impact colour can have on people and places. What is it about colour that you think affects our mood and what colours do you think could help us all through this rather awful year?

Colour is a striking tool. Many brands have learnt the way certain colours can persuade you to take action on something. Certain colour combinations can certainly uplift someone’s mood. I plan to use more yellow as the months get colder as yellow is the colour of optimism.

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How closely did you work with Pantone and what kind of input did they have in the project?

Pantone Colour Institute gave us their expert knowledge on the colour messaging and gave a description of each colour used.

How easy or difficult was it to implement the QR codes into your work?

It was a fairly straightforward process incorporating the QR codes into the work and I feel it is a great addition as people can scan them to find out more about the project and allows people to interact a bit more with the work.  

In general, how has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

As a multidisciplinary artist and designer, I tend to also create work digitally and advances in technology have allowed me to explore new ways of working. It’s also a vital tool for emerging creatives to promote their work and without this, I wouldn’t be able to share my work as widely, connect with people or to inspire others. So I’m very thankful it’s always advancing.

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You’ve transformed everything from buses to basketball courts, so what’s next for Lois O’Hara?

I will be transforming an indoor climbing centre next and will be working on a major project in Shoreditch which will be revealed soon. I’ll also be working on limited editions with Aquapax, the award winning ethically packaged water brand, and Gomi Design, who have created a bluetooth speaker made from plastic trash that would otherwise end up in landfills or the ocean.

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

The UK has a thriving creative community with incredible vision and passion, but the coronavirus pandemic has threatened the arts like never before, particularly freelancers and younger or emerging artists and designers. My big hope for the future of the industry is that we can still come out of this strong, support each other and still find a way to express the things we are passionate about. 

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

For more people outside, looking in at the industry realise that being an Artist is a serious job!

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The public artwork will be on view at Chelsea Fire Station, opposite the junction with Oakley Street and King’s Road throughout Autumn 2020. 

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