In Conversation With Artist Lois O’Hara
Who says sports venues can’t be beautiful? Not Lois O’Hara, the artist using her design talents to breathe new life into public spaces
Brighton-born artist Lois O’Hara credits her love of surfing when she was younger with her distinctive wavy murals. But it’s safely on land that her mix of bright colours and flowing shapes is inspiring people to get moving. Here, she explains the benefits her designs are having on people’s physical and emotional wellbeing…
Glorious (G): You’re transforming some of Bradford’s sports courts – how did that come about? Lois O’Hara (LO) Bradford Council contacted me back in January 2020, as they had seen some of the other sports courts I had re-designed and they wanted the exact same. They could see the benefits the art-courts had on the local community. They assigned me as project manager and I was in charge of three different sites. I’m super-happy with the results and I really hope the local community enjoys playing on them.
G: This was the first project you’ve managed from beginning to end – how did you find it? LO: It was a challenge to focus on more than just the creative side. I handled everything from the repairs, the resurfacing, the logistics and assigned and worked with different contractors. There were a lot of hiccups along the way, such as running out of paint and having to wait for more, having to battle weather changes, but these challenges just made the launch even more exciting. When you work so hard to get something, it feels even better when you finally have it!
G: How do you think the work you’ve been a part of in Bradford will benefit the local community there? LO: The bright colours encourage those who wouldn’t usually feel confident engaging in sport to join in. The art-courts bring people together and they actually make areas safer. It really is an amazing feeling to know that my hard work and creativity is making public areas more friendly and accessible.
G: You’ve also been working with Wilson on this project – and have even developed a tennis racket. How did you find it translating your designs into 3D products? LO: It was fun to do because my shapes are so organic and fluid, so I visualise it as though I’m pouring the colours onto the products in perfect form. It switches it up.
G: Can you tell us a bit more about your other upcoming projects? LO: I’m working on a mural for London’s new Design District [a creative quarter near Greenwich], which is my largest scale mural yet. I’ve designed the hoarding, which will wrap around two new buildings and be up for at least three years. It was a challenge working at such a large scale — I had to break the hoarding up in sections. I’m really excited to launch the work in September and plan to release a short IGTV to promote the partnership. I’m also working with beer brand Estrella Damm. I’ve designed some ping-pong tables and will be working on a large outdoor mural in Brighton.
G: Mental health is a key theme in your work. Can you tell us more about Unwind, your series of prints produced in association with the International Stress Management Association? LO: A lot of my work is based around improving mental health, yes – it’s something I’m very passionate about. I’m a big believer in the power of colour. When it’s used cleverly, it can really inspire and encourage others to think differently. These prints were made from actual objects, which were then photographed by a local photographer called Veega. We really wanted to create compositions that offered a sense of support and stability to whoever was viewing them.
G: Earlier this year, you worked with the British Red Cross to produce a print celebrating its partnership with Team GB. Can you tell us about the design you created? LO: The British Red Cross approached me to design something for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 — what an honour! The design represents community, the importance of green spaces and movement. The brief really aligned with my natural passions as an artist. The artwork was used across a range of merchandise, including a framed print, a towel and an iPhone case, to help the British Red Cross raise money for all the amazing work it does.
G: You’ve also produced a mural for London gym chain Frame. What atmosphere did you want to create within the space? LO: The mural was situated in a yoga AND dance space. Therefore, the colours had to be vibrant but the shapes had to be calm. It was a challenge creating the right harmony but you must be able to tell by now that I love a challenge!
G: How has your technique developed over the years? LO: When I first started creating art, I focused heavily on screen printing and marbling. Now my style has been adapted to suit large-scale things. I’m constantly experimenting with new textures. Nature helps a lot with this, I get a lot of inspiration from plants, the sea, sunsets etc.
G: How does the creative process differ when working with a commercial client rather than on personal projects? LO: It’s always more rigid working on briefs set by clients because there are more rules to follow but it can make things more interesting. I love to collaborate but there is obviously more room to experiment when working on personal projects, so it’s important I still find the time for this.
G: Do you play and/or follow any sports and does that feed into your work? LO: When I was younger, I surfed quite a lot and I think this is where my wavy style was born. I like to keep an active mind and body.
G: How do you think art can elevate women’s sport? LO: I think art can encourage more women to play sports, particularly in public spaces. By making a sports site and surface more appealing, this brings a sense of community and safety to the area. Art courts also bring families together and help to promote multi-generational play..
G: Do you have a dream project? LO: I’d love to design an airplane! Why do planes have to be so plain and white? I’d keep the shapes big and bold but bring colour to one. It would be even better if I owned my own private jet which I could decorate. Imagine seeing a huge wave of colour fly above your head; how many smiles would that bring?
G: Do you collect any other artists’ work? LO: Yes, mainly photography. I’m a big fan of dark/moody photography. I love the work of a photographer called Shaun Smith who is based in California. He photographs the sea up close, mainly as a wave breaks, and the way he captures the movement is like no other. I also love late night photography like Ewen Spencer who manages to beautifully capture pretty much anything that involves movement, whether people or nature. I’m also a huge fan of Camille Walala who I have always looked up to. Our styles are very different but we both work at a large scale and she was the first artist I discovered who gave me the reassurance of “Ah, it can be done!”
G: What’s next for Lois O’Hara? LO: I’m launching my project with Design District, have more coming with Estrella Damm and will be painting a mural for The Other Art Fair in October.