Inside the colourful world of artist Lois O’Hara

PUBLISHED: 10:44 25 November 2020

Perth, Western Australia. Photo: Lois O'Hara

Perth, Western Australia. Photo: Lois O'Hara


Still only 23, the Brighton artist has completed a number of large-scale commissions in urban environments around the world

Pantone X Kings Road. Photo: Lois O'HaraPantone X Kings Road. Photo: Lois O'Hara

There can be few Brighton residents unfamiliar with Lois O’Hara’s work. The artist’s joyful, dreamy-hued murals are splashed across the city, from her melted-rainbow walkway in front of the Kings Road Arches shops to her dazzling makeover of a Brighton and Hove number 25 bus to her transformation of a run-down basketball court in Saunders Park, off Lewes Road. Now she’s spreading her wings in Eastbourne, where she has just finished covering the exterior of new art gallery Volt in neon pinks and greens, and London. When we speak Lois has just completed an ambitious mural across Chelsea Fire Station on London’s Kings Road. Impressive stuff – and she’s still only 23.

Born and raised in Brighton, Lois says she was always obsessed by painting and drawing – and not a lot else. “School was hell,” she tells me. “I got very little encouragement. But it just made me more determined.” That pattern was repeated during her time studying illustration at Bournemouth University. She found the course largely uninspiring but graduated with a newfound passion for colour and a desire to share it with as wide an audience as possible. “I personally felt the benefits that colour can bring to your mental health,” she says. “It can completely change your mood. I wanted that experience to be available to everyone.”

As she began to experiment with painting large-scale murals, her work attracted the attention of Brighton club Patterns, on Marine Parade, who commissioned her to create the visual style of the entire building. “That project was a dream,” she smiles. “It was the first substantial commission I’d had out of uni and it involved everything from designing the interior to creating the fabric of the deckchairs on the terrace.” The success of the project established her name as one to watch and the workflow hasn’t let up since. Her designs can now be seen on bars, gyms, car parks, office blocks, and shops; each design recognisable as her own while also being unique to that location.

Jack Arts X 2020. Photo: Edward BishopJack Arts X 2020. Photo: Edward Bishop

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“I always begin by working out how I can bring happiness and positivity to that particular area,” the artist explains. She will look at how people use the area and what kind of mood she wants to create before designing sketches and the all-important colour palette. Pink and orange often feature, inspired by Brighton’s famous seafront sunsets. “I take a lot of photos down on the beach, and I’ll often colour-match that in my work.” Each piece stems from a memory or feeling – what she describes as an abstract form of storytelling : “I want to evoke the movement and the flow of life. I never use straight lines because I don’t see that way; one thing merges into another.”

Pantone X Kings Road. Photo: Lois O'HaraPantone X Kings Road. Photo: Lois O'Hara

The artist cites Brighton University graduate Camille Walala as an inspiration and it’s easy to see how the graphic designer’s dynamic use of pattern and colour has informed her swooping curves and bold shapes. Her plasterer dad also plays a significant role. “He’s been a big influence in me doing what I do,” she says. “He’s a really practical person and he’s taught me loads.” Her father has often helped out on her projects, prepping walls and assisting: “But now I can actually pay him to do it!” When it comes to the business of painting, however, she prefers to go solo. “I actually work better at night because I’m left alone and I can fully get into the zone then. In the daytime you have so many people asking questions, wanting to know what it will look like, what it’s about. I like to be able to put in a lot of hours without interruption. My work is all about flow.”

The new year promises to hold even less downtime than the last for Lois. Her diary is already filling up with new projects, from large-scale commissions for buildings and billboards to the design of a new limited-edition carton to mark the 15th anniversary of Brighton company Aquapax. “I don’t know where it comes from,” she shrugs, when I ask where she gets her ferocious drive. “But I wake up every morning and I’m ready to go...”

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