Camille Walala

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artist & digital print designer

Talking playfulness, humble beginnings and the artistic process.

For anyone who has lived in East London, or even visited briefly, you will very likely be familiar with the work of Camille Walala. Her bold and playful prints cover many large-scale surfaces in the area, from office buildings to off-licences.

Camille has lived in London for most of her adult life and has found not only her feet in this city, but also her confidence and artistic style. Moving to London from France at the age of 23 she describes herself as both ‘shy, yet too colourful to fit in’. With her ‘spice girl shoes’ she was met with a bustling city that was filled with eccentricities just like hers. It was home.

Camille is now a world-renowned artist and has a team working under her, travelling more than she is home. She has collaborated on projects with Harrods, Le Printemps, Giorgio Armani, has created an installation for the Now Gallery and is often working on numerous projects across several different continents at once. The FEMININE were lucky enough to catch Camille on one of her rare days off at the Hackney institution, E5 Bakehouse. We spoke to Camille about her humble beginnings, her father forcing her to move to London against her will and her iconic artwork that has captured the imaginations of London’s East End.

What were the formative moments in you finding your style?

People describe my style as tribal pop. I think that’s a nice way to describe it as I’m really inspired by colourful pop designs and I love African prints, so I guess it’s a bit of a combination of the two.

The best compliment people have given me is when they say ‘I recognise your work in the street’ and I think, really? I didn’t realise I had such an identifiable style. When it’s such a personal process you think each piece is so different, so it’s really just from people telling me I had a style that made me realise I did actually have one.

Did you always know that you wanted to work with large-scale outdoor artwork?

No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was almost 40. I did a literature degree in France and I didn’t like it, I didn’t like school at all, so I came to London to learn English when I was 23 because my dad forced me. I didn’t want to go, I was really shy having lived in such a small village in France, but I came here anyway. My dream job at the time was to work in Pret a Manger, which I failed at, I could never get the interview, but the freedom coming to London at 23 was incredible.

I started doing short courses in drawing, pottery, stitching — I tried lots of things but I really wanted to try fashion. I didn’t want to apply to Central St Martins because I thought I wouldn’t get in, so I did a foundation course in textiles for fashion in Brighton and graduated in 2009.

I carried on working in restaurants and I wanted to do my own thing, as I didn’t feel I was good enough to work for anyone else. I started working with textiles, making things like cushions and selling them on Broadway Market. It was hard work, but eventually I landed a project to design the entire interior of a nightclub in Shoreditch — XOYO — which was amazing and gave me a lot of confidence.

That’s when I realised that I wanted to work with prints on a big scale and started working on walls around London.

Can you tell me more about your artistic process given the scale of most of your work.

I have a team of people now and my designs use a lot of block colour, so it’s quite easy to replicate. I mock up a design on the building digitally and then work out the scale afterward. It’s always quite intimidating when you arrive at the location though; it’s like ‘where do you start?’

I’m in the middle of a project in New York at the moment, working on a building, which is 15 stories high, so we’ll see how that goes.

You already have such a legacy in London, New York and many other cities around the world with your artwork permanently covering several iconic buildings. How do you envisage this legacy growing and changing throughout the rest of your career?

I’d really like to combine a charity project with a community project. I like the idea of bringing colours and patterns to places around cities and public spaces like council estates where they are needed; touching peoples lives in a simple but effective way.

I’ve had so many people saying ‘you could do this or that’ or offering me opportunities that I could never have dreamt about, but at this stage I really want to leave my options open and see what happens.

2018 will be 100 years since the first women won the right to vote in the UK. How do you see gender equality 100 years on?

I think we’ve definitely moved on, especially in the last few years. I really want equality for both sexes, but sometimes I feel like we need to be careful to not let it go too far the other way.

It is good to see women becoming more prominent in the art world though and women receiving equal pay and hopefully that will continue.

You often say that playfulness in adults is as important as in children. Tell us why this is so important to you personally?

Yeah, I think it is. I feel powerless sometimes when I look at everything that is happening in the world and there’s so little I can do to change it, I get quite anxious. The balance is contributing what I can to society, which is colour, happiness and a playfulness that hopefully has a positive effect on the communities I work in.

What projects are you working on at the moment that we can keep an eye out for?

I’m working on a very exciting project with a hotel somewhere very exotic, which I can’t really talk about. It will be open late next year, so keep an eye out for it.

What does the word feminine mean to you?  

For me it means glamorous like my mum and my grandma. We’re so much luckier than boys in that we get to dress up and really express ourselves with what we wear. 

If you were to nominate one woman who has inspired you either inside or outside of your industry that we should interview, whom would you nominate?

Sabine Zetteler, she does my PR and is someone I think is really inspiring and has an interesting story to tell.

 

Imagery shot by Lucy Goodayle