Camille Walala: the artist on a joy mission

Beatrice Hodgkin meets the artist making the world a more colourful place. Portrait by Gabby Laurent

Camille Walala in her studio
Camille Walala in her studio | Image: Gabby Laurent

Wa-la-la. That’s what a former boyfriend of the “tribal pop” artist Camille Walala said when he first saw her. And why he set up her email account under that name – which she then adopted professionally. “My real surname is Vic-Dupont,” says the London-based Frenchwoman. “But now I relate more to Walala.” 

Walala’s recent Lego House of Dots pop-up at London’s Coal Drops Yard
Walala’s recent Lego House of Dots pop-up at London’s Coal Drops Yard | Image: Tekla Severin
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This onomatopoeic chutzpah fits the work as well as the woman. Walala’s exuberant, colour-saturated murals, furniture and product designs – which draw on inspirations as diverse as Dick Bruna’s Miffy, the Memphis movement, the Ndebele tribe, op artist Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers – are lightning bolts of colour that stop you in your tracks and fill you with joy.

A water tank for Standing Voice, Tanzania
A water tank for Standing Voice, Tanzania | Image: Harry Freeland
Walala’s mural in Brooklyn’s Industry City
Walala’s mural in Brooklyn’s Industry City | Image: Industry City

“My goal is to make people smile and inspire them to interact – it’s missing from cities. I really believe in the power of street art – everything is often so dark and there’s not much femininity, colour or happiness. I want to create positive, uplifting messages; to surprise; to break up the commute with messages like dance more, kiss more, floss more.” An upcoming talk in Helsinki is entitled: Taking Joy Seriously. “When I love something, I don’t have to understand why – the best result is emotion.”

Walala’s Equilibrium rug for Floor_Story
Walala’s Equilibrium rug for Floor_Story
Walala’s poster for End Youth Homelessness
Walala’s poster for End Youth Homelessness | Image: Kevin Lake/Jack Agency

Earlier this month, Walala’s collaboration with Lego saw her create a pop-up life-sized house from over two million pieces – complete with kitchen, living room, an 8ft-plus slide and a ball pit – in London’s Coal Drops Yard. In January, she erected an inflatable village in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park as part of the design festival. Last year, for a community project in Fort Smith, Arkansas, she transformed an abandoned petrol station, injecting the stark “Last stop before the wildness of the Wild West” with vibrant vim. Her Bauhaus-esque benches can currently be found cheering up South Molton Street, in central London, while visitors to Facebook’s London HQ will be welcomed by her mural Connect More. For the full immersive experience, there’s Salt, the Mauritian riad-style hotel that opened in 2018. And among her upcoming projects is a geometric reinterpretation of a zebra crossing in Abu Dhabi. It’s all in a day’s work for the artist who has been uplifting public spaces since creating her studio in 2009.

A Camille Walala bench on London’s South Molton Street
A Camille Walala bench on London’s South Molton Street | Image: Charles Emerson
Walala’s pool for Salt of Palmar, Mauritius
Walala’s pool for Salt of Palmar, Mauritius | Image: Tekla Severin

Only now, her strategy has shifted. Walala’s new agenda is focused on turning “a portfolio of dream projects” into reality. On one hand, she’s taking on private commissions: “Sometimes public works are restrictive; with private spaces we can go more wild,” she says. She has her eye on homes. Walala has long created interior products, such as her collection of rugs for Floor_Story (from £450), but this vision is bigger, bolder. “I love the idea of painting someone’s house.” Another dream design is a multi-level, turquoise-tiled pool bordered by humbug-striped fountains.

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In parallel, Walala is expanding her philanthropic designs, which already include a mural for Essex’s Park Royal mental-health hospital, water tanks for African albino rights charity Standing Voice in Tanzania, and a bus for children’s art therapy charity At The Bus. She wants to help Juli Beattie, founder of the latter, launch a fleet of buses. And, building upon her work with charity End Youth Homelessness, she’s currently looking for funding to set up a community kitchen in east London’s Haggerston. 

“If you really want something and you keep talking about it, that’s when opportunity comes,” says Walala. Back in 2015, the project that catapulted her into the public consciousness was an eminently Instagrammable 15m x 20m building in east London that she painted with a team of people paid in prosecco, and an abseiling window cleaner. “I’m always talking about my dreams, so was always saying – to people and on social media –  that I wanted to paint a building. A woman messaged me: ‘Do you want to paint my husband’s building on Old Street?’” She did. Not only that, but on her team was Julia Jomaa, who has since become her partner in life as well as work. One can’t help but feel that Walala’s positivity breeds positivity. And that if ever dreams come true, they do for her and those in her orbit.

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