Hackney People: Camille Walala

Internationally renowned graphic artist brings colour and pattern to Hackney

"THE thing about working in Hackney, is there are so many creative people here, that no matter where you’re working, in whatever job, you are going to meet them and get amazing opportunities. Even if you’re working in a cafe,” says internationally renowned graphic artist Camille Walala.

She should know. The queen of brightly coloured, bold graphics, whose murals are now plastered across East London’s walls, didn’t start making art until she was in her 20s.

She grew up in France, studied French literature at university, and then moved to London and worked in cafes and restaurants. “It wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to take the plunge and study textiles at Brighton University but, even after I graduated, I still felt pretty lost,” she says.

Camille found herself working in a cafe again, this time L’Eau a la Bouche on Broadway Market. She explains: “My boss’s wife owned a fabric shop and I started using my degree for the first time, designing some things for her.”

She began making cushions and selling them on the market. Camille says: “That was really hard! But some guys found my stall there and asked me to do the interior design for a new club they were starting up called XOYO. I’d never done anything like that, but I said yes anyway.”

Hackney seemed to create opportunity after opportunity for her, not that it was easy. “I did a lot of unpaid projects at the beginning,” she explains. Adding: “But it was worth it because people started recognising my art. I did installations at the cafe on Wilton Way and then a pop-up greasy spoon at Dalston festival ‘Land of Kings’. That was wonderful – it’s always been my dream to have my own greasy spoon!”

It is, however, her large-scale murals covering walls and, in one instance, an entire five-storey building, for which she is now famous. She describes one of her favourites, painted in 2013: “It’s on Whitby Street and is the front of a home owned by an old lady called Georgina. Her husband had died only the year before she asked me to paint it. I covered the wall in really cheerful, bold graphics. We called it Georgina’s Happy House.”

Then, last year, she was asked to paint the walls of Queensbridge Primary School’s playground. “We painted it while all the kids were still running about and around us,” she explains. Adding: “I was designing as we went, sitting at this low table in the playground with my computer. The kids were all peering at the screen, giving their own opinions and contradicting mine.”

Her work has taken her around the world, creating commissions in New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Paris, and her client list includes giants like Facebook (whose offices she created a mural for), Nintendo, Urban Outfitters and Caterpillar, for whom she designed a range of women’s shoes.

Her work has also expanded to include art direction, design and interiors. Her studio and home remain in Hackney, however. She says: “I would love to do more public spaces and community projects, more schools and hospitals.” Adding: “My real passion is for transforming dull spaces and bringing them alive. I never really take myself, or my work, too seriously. I just look around me and I see grey, grey, grey and I want to bring colour and pattern to it. It doesn’t take much to make things look nice and brighten up the city, I just want to make people smile.”